Surprised by Joy

Stories That Shaped My Faith

Suprised by Joy

by Julie Anderson | July 29, 2019

When I was a senior at North Park University, a friend asked me to become his “joy ambassador.” He explained that he wanted me to teach him how I was always able to be so joyful. I didn’t know how to answer him.

It took me a while to figure why joy was the fruit of the Spirit easiest for me to bear. I was able to find the silver lining in most circumstances. The smallest and most insignificant things are beautiful to me. I love sunsets, art museums, beautiful melodies, and blooming flowers. One of the ways I connect with God is in the joy of discovering those simple things.

Then November 2017 hit me. I was diagnosed with stage III endometrial cancer and went through eight long months of treatment. My lifelong ability to find joy in all circumstances was put to the test.

Around that time I discovered the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The premise of the show is that Marie Kondo, professional organizer extraordinaire, author of the New York Times bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and apparently a genuinely delightful woman, is invited into people’s overflowing closets and homes to help them declutter. Instead of approaching each mess with criticism or judgment, she enters homes inviting residents to ask, “What sparks joy?”

What Kondo asks her clients to do is not easy. They collect every item in a given category and place them in a pile—first clothes, then books, purses, shoes, kitchen items, tools, photos, and personal items. Nothing is off limits. Once the items are piled up, the owner holds each piece, one at a time, and decides whether to keep it or donate it. The process is meant to bring not pain but rather freedom and release from the things in our lives that we are ready to say goodbye to.

The goal is to be surrounded by items that make you happy in the place you call home. Of course, you may need to keep some items that don’t spark a lot of joy for you—a hammer, for instance. Kondo has many tips for keeping a happy home, such as how to fold your clothes and how to put things away. But the real heart of the show is unpacking your relationship with your possessions.

I couldn’t help but experience a new sense of gratitude for the things that surround me each day when I held each item in my hand and chose either to keep it or donate it. That gift of finding joy in the little things began to bloom again in my heart the way it had before my diagnosis.

In discerning which items in my life “sparked joy,” I was left with a sense of thankfulness for things that can keep me happy, healthy, safe, and secure. I am thankful that I do not have to worry about where I will sleep tonight or whether I will have a warm coat in the winter. I never want to take those things for granted. This exercise helped me remember that.

But on a much deeper level, I found myself rediscovering the ability to find joy. I was again delighted by the obvious beauty of the wider world as well as by the things I have decided to keep. I started in my own apartment, and it spread to finding beauty in my neighborhood, my community, my church, and my world.

Finally, I was reminded that I am not defined by my possessions. I could have given away every item I held in my hands and my primary identity as the beloved child of Christ would not have changed. All the other ways I define myself (daughter, sister, aunt, pastor, girlfriend, friend, apartment renter, plant lady) are secondary. My joy does not come from my things, but rather by delighting in my Creator and the beauty of creation that I enjoy with him. The ability to observe, share, create, and enjoy the beauty of the world with friends, family, and community—and with the God who walks beside me—fills me with a joy I want to share.

About the Author

Julie Anderson serves as pastor of youth and adult ministry at First Covenant Church in Jamestown, New York. She enjoys organizing things by color, trying to learn all the words to Hamilton, and trying to keep her plants alive.

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