LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS) – Kay Warren, the wife of Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has battled breast cancer and melanoma and now she has encouraged others to, like her, “choose joy.”
In fact, her latest book is called Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough, (Revell, April 1st publication) and Kay Warren talked about it in an interview with me in which she began by define joy as opposed to happiness.
“Happiness is completely connected to what’s happening to us on the external circumstances of our lives. Joy is unrelated to what’s happening to us on the outside,” said Warren.
“If joy is only tied to our external circumstances we’re all lost; very few of us ever experience joy. But when joy is turned around and has my definition of joy — it’s the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright and the determined choice to praise him in all things.
“That has nothing to do with what circumstances are happening in my life. It has everything to do with what I believe about God, what I believe he can do on the inside of me, and my choice then in response to what’s happening to me is to give praise back to him. That becomes something that’s within my control. I can’t always control what’s happening to me on the outside, but I can most definitely control my response, what I do with it, what I believe about God, what I believe he’s going to do about it. So then joy actually becomes something I can attain.”
Kay Warren talked about dealing with cancer breast cancer, the setbacks she’s had, and how she has managed to deal with them.
“I’ve had hard times, but so has everybody else. I mean if I were able to sit down with every person reading this interview and we were able to just sit down over a cup of tea or coffee, we could share our lives and each of us could talk about the painful things, the sad things, the heartbreaking moments. I’ve had those as well. Some in my family happened in my past as a child, some were health concerns, some have been relational, we all have stuff, we all have painful things.
I compare that to a set of parallel train tracks and on one side are painful things that break our hearts. But what’s running right alongside that train track of pain is the train track of joy of good things, of happiness, of beauty, loveliness where things go right. And those tracks run right next to each other through all of our lives and we sometimes try to outsmart the sorrow track and think that if we can just think positive thoughts or good thoughts that we won’t ever have to deal with sorrow and that just isn’t true. Sorrow comes to all of us. So it’s not a matter of somehow, by positive thinking, we can experience joy, no — it’s accepting both the sorrow and the joy together and choosing then to see it from God’s point of view and that’s a challenge.”
Warren spoke specifically about the struggles she has faced.
“I’ve had cancer twice, I’ve had melanoma. Fortunately for me, they both were stage one, they were caught early enough and I’m almost at my 10-year mark of where they say you’ve got a 90 percent chance of being alive and cancer-free at 10 years. I’m almost I’m at year nine. But I learned through this process not to look over my shoulder to see if cancer’s going to catch up with me. I’m not going to live by a statistical chart. My life is in God’s hands so I’m not going to worry about how long He gives me, but I am going to be concerned about the kind of life I live in the days that He gives me.
Kay has also seen so much horror in Rwanda and places like that and yet still talks about joy. How do the people in Rwanda experience joy when they’ve seen genocide?
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘It’s only the heart that hurts that has a right to joy.’ And you’re right, I have seen people experience genocide both in Cambodia and in Rwanda particularly, and what I have seen in Rwanda that I think has opened the doorway for many of the people that I have met there to begin to live again is forgiveness. They have opened their hearts to forgiveness. Forgive those that have wounded, killed, amid rape and as a society, particularly the Christians have led the way in offering forgiveness. And when forgiveness is a part of our lives, then joy can take root. It’s the heart that holds onto bitterness that can’t experience joy. So yes, there have been so many people who’ve experienced tragic, horrible, horrific things, but those that have chosen to forgive are those who are experiencing joy.”
Warren was asked to tell a couple of stories from the book.
“I’d love to tell you about one of the stories that is a little bit different maybe than that, but it’s about how we don’t realize how often we kill joy in other people,” said Warren.
“We become professional joy killers — we not only squish it down in ourselves, but in others. On our honeymoon, Rick and I were driving in Canada and he just out of the blue with this very sweet look on his face said to me ‘I’d like to make a book that we can collect stories and pictures and things that have been meaningful to us through our married life so that when we’re old and grey and we’re sitting in the rocking chair we could look back through this book and see all the wonderful years that we’ve had together.’ And I don’t know what I was feeling. I don’t know why, but I just looked at him and said ‘that is a really bad idea.’ And I just squished the joy out of him, his face fell, I broke his heart, and I don’t know why I did that. And I say in the book it took him 20 years, but he got me back.
“One Christmas I decided that he needed a new barbecue. He didn’t ask for it, but I decided he needed a new barbecue. So there was a store going out of business and I bought this great barbecue, bells and whistles — it was amazing! On Christmas morning I’m so excited because he’s going to go out in the garage, take the sheet off his big box that’s out there, and I just had pictures in my mind of how joyful he’s going to be and he lifts the sheet off of it and he goes ‘what’s this?’ I said ‘It’s a barbecue!’ He said ‘I don’t’ need a barbecue!’ He had been dropping hints for a satellite TV, so he saw this big box he’s thinking it’s a satellite TV — and it’s the barbecue. So needless to say, that was not a good Christmas for us and it’s become a family joke — the Christmas barbecue. The point is: we kill joy in each other, and instead I want to really focus on building joy in myself and in the people that I love.”
What would Warren say to people who live in abject poverty about how can they be joyful?
“That’s a great question, and if we look to where we live, if we look to our possessions, if we look to the people in our lives, if we look to the positions that we’re in, if we look to our personalities we’re going to be disappointed. And if our joy is emanating from those external temporary situations, people, relationships, circumstances, what we own, what we don’t own, joy will be impossible. Joy has to be found on the inside through a perspective that sees life through ‘God’s eternal lens’ that sees what God values."
“God doesn’t value possessions the way I do, and possessions can be lost or broken or destroyed. Relationships: people can leave us. People die, people divorce, people abandon us. The position that you have can be given to somebody else, your personality can get you into trouble, I mean all of those things are externals and if that’s where we’re putting our focus then we have no chance at joy."
“Each of us has to develop that perspective that the apostle Paul did where he said ‘outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all.’ So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, because it is temporary, but on what is unseen which is eternal. That’s the secret of joy. It’s choosing the eternal over the temporary in every situation.”
In our society young people want to grow up to be famous and yet they don’t realize the problems of being a celebrity. What is Warren’s advice for teenagers today that are being drawn into the celebrity culture? What would she say to them, and how would she like to advise them?
Warren replied: “It’s temporary. Fame is temporary, popularity is temporary, wealth, riches, acclaim — all those are temporary. I mean they’re nice: if you ask me, wouldn’t I rather be comfortable than uncomfortable? Wouldn’t I rather have a warm coat when it’s cold than not, and the answer is of course, we all like comfort, we all want to be liked, we all want to have our needs met, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that if that becomes our pursuit — again it’s back to that — pursuing only what is here for a while.
“All of us have to find that certainty within us that knows that God has put us here for reasons far beyond our comfort, far beyond being popular, far beyond acclaim, and settle that issue inside of us. (It is saying) ‘God, I belong to you, you made me, you’ve given me life, I want my life to please you. I want my life to be about using the influence or wealth or acclaim that you have given me for your glory and for the good of other people.’ Sometimes it’s hard for teenagers, sometimes that takes a mature approach, and we as adults have to really help younger people steer them in that direction. But sometimes, it may take a few years to get that settled.”
What would Warren say to Moms raising kids? How on earth can they find joy when their kids are doing all sorts of stuff they shouldn’t be?
“You have to enjoy the moment two things you have to enjoy the moment this moment that you’re in it may be painful it may have a lot of joy in it, this is the moment where God can be found,” she said.
“You and I have to choose to look for (what) Philippians Four talks about – look for the good, the worthwhile, the worthy of praise. We enjoy the moments that are given to us. Secondly, we find the blessing in the mess. Find ‘the bless in the mess.’ You may be going through a really horrible, rotten time at this moment and everything may be going wrong, just your whole world may have just shifted under your feet in the last twenty-four hours and yet you can still experience joy in the middle of that. You can find the ‘bless in the mess’ and that’s a challenge, but that requires us to come back to scripture. It requires us to come back to where is our joy centered; it’s not in all these temporary things, it’s in the fact that God is our only true source of joy, and He doesn’t change.”
For people with HIV who maybe are reading this who’ve just discovered that they’ve got HIV, how do they find joy?
Warren said that we all have to experience joy in the same way. “There is no one path for people who have HIV, one path for people who have cancer, one path for people who have mental illness.”
She continued: “You know, we all live with those parallel train tracks of joy and sorrow and every one of us have to determine in our hearts some things about God. He is true, He is unchangeable, His worth is amazing, His works are amazing. We meditate on Him and from there we develop that eternal perspective that then allows us to filter all the things that happen to us across that grid, and at the end of the day — because we do believe that God is in control, because we do believe that if everything in my life isn’t OK I will be OK — and from there we determine that we’ll praise Him that we’re going to give Him praise even in that very broken painful situation. That’s the only place to find joy. It really doesn’t come any other way. It comes down to what are you going to do; it doesn’t even matter at the end of the day what you think or what you say — what matters is what you do, and you and I get to choose that.”
Warren said that after reading the book, she wants readers to visit www.KayWarren.com where there are thirty days of free video devotions that will augment the teaching of the book.
“I hope they will share their ‘joy story.’ I hope that they will realize that joy is within their reach; that it’s not just for a few people, it’s not just for the great Christians of the Bible but god intends it as our birthright. The Holy Spirit has given us joy, it’s part of our birthright, we can claim it. So I want them to claim it, then I want them to share their stories. I want them to look at the devotionals.
“I also want them to get together with a small group study using the small group curriculum with each other, and really encourage, cheer each other on this journey to finding joy.”