It's not always easy to be joyful, and for many people joy doesn't even seem like an option when times are tough. In her latest book, Kay Warren shares what she has learned about finding true joy in the middle of all of life's circumstances.
James 1:2-4 tells Christians that they should "consider it pure joy" when problems come their way, because trials can produce perseverance and maturity in them, but for many people finding joy in times of sorrow seems like an impossible task. Warren explains in Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough how external success does not equal lasting joy, which she says can only come through Jesus Christ.
The Christian Post interviewed Warren about her book on Monday. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
CP: You're a founder of one of the largest churches in America (Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.), and your husband (Pastor Rick Warren) is one of the most influential pastors in our nation, but you say in the beginning of the book that you've struggled with "low-level depression." Can you explain why, having achieved so much, you have still struggled with depression?
Warren: Depression is not always related to external circumstances... I have had incredible things happen to me and I have so much of what people would consider make for a good life. I do. I have a great husband, I have a great family, I love my church, I love the ministry we've had. Those are all true, but they don't deal with what's in the core of who we are, those internal wrestlings with God and with life and the way that we approach it. Those are all separate things.
CP: In Choose Joy you explain the "Winnie the Pooh School of Personalities," and you describe yourself as an "Eeyore." What advantage is there in understanding your own personality type when it comes to joy and life in general?
Warren: All of us have to seek God. [For] somebody who is what I would call a 'Rabbit,' it's easy to find your joy in getting stuff done, and that can become a trap because we're not put here to just get stuff done. People like me, the Eeyores, who are intense, and creative, and tend toward that perfectionism and can more easily fall into a depressed approach to life. I think we have the hardest time accessing joy. The Winnie the Poohs, they just walk around thinking everybody's getting too excited about everything and can become a little cynical. I think the Winnie the Poohs can become cynical and then that will zap joy. So all of us, at the end of the day, have got to come back to God as the true source, not our personalities."
CP: You also describe your husband, Rick, as a "Tigger" in your book. How do your two personality types clash, and how do they complement each other?
Warren: He approaches everything, everything, from the glass-half-full. I approach everything from glass-half-empty... I'd say the fact that we're so different has been our greatest sorrow, and the fact that we're so different has been our greatest joy. For me, Rick has brought so much laughter to my life. He can still make me laugh like nobody else. I'm grateful that he helps me see things through the eyes of faith, instead of through the eyes of despair, and that has been powerful.
CP: Given that you've struggled with this sort of pessimistic view of life, when was it that you first realized that joy was something you needed to seek out?
Warren: There was this confluence in the last few years of my natural personality, my struggling with depression, there were some family situations that were extremely difficult to deal with and, at the same time, I was reading in the Bible of what seemed to be the norm for a Christian experience – to experience joy – and I wasn't. So when I studied it last spring, I taught it to a Bible study at our church for women and about 5,000 women who were attending, either in person or online, and it hit a nerve. It obviously hit a nerve, and I realized I wasn't the only one that was struggling.
CP: There are a lot of books out there on the topic of joy, so what is it that makes yours unique?
Warren: Why another book on joy? Good question. Well, I've been speaking about joy now in the last year, and I ask the same question to every audience. And I ask this question, I say, "How many of you can name two people that you think live with joy?" And almost every hand goes up.Then I say, "How many of you can name 10 people who live with joy, especially that Biblical definition of James 1 – people who consider trials and troubles an opportunity for great joy?" I'd say three-quarters of the hands go down.
And then I say, "How many of you can name 25 people who live with that kind of a response?" No hand goes up. And so then I say, "So what's wrong with us? What are we missing? If none of us can name 25 people, something is very, very wrong." So it doesn't matter if there are 500 books out there on joy, we're not getting the message. We're not living with joy.
CP: Your say in the book that joy and sorrow run on "parallel train tracks" alongside one another, but many people think joy and sorrow come in waves, and that they can only have one or the other at any given time. Why do you think our perception of joy and sorrow are off?
Warren: I think Christians have bought into the same misconceptions as those who aren't believers... and that when all the externals in your life are lined up neatly in a row and you have all the things that you think you should have, that joy will come. The other misconception is that it's just for certain people. No, it's my birthright, and it's for every person who is a believer. For me, the most gratifying part about the whole thing is my family is seeing me change. My kids are telling me, "Mom, you're different" – that's my goal. If it's not just words on a page or words that I'm speaking to an audience then it really is something that I'm practicing and living out, and... it's changing me.
CP: How does our joy affect our Christian witness to other people?
Warren: We experience the same things, and if the only difference between the way I respond to those things and the way my neighbor does is that I go to church more often, then I have missed an opportunity to bring glory to God.
It doesn't mean that we don't experience the extraordinary devastation of loss, but when we go through it with the belief that God is in control of the details of our lives and that I'm going to praise God and believe in Him and trust in Him even so, that's a different response... But we have to choose it. That's where I just messed up for so long. I just didn't accept the fact that I could choose it.
CP: When many people hear the phrase "Choose Joy," they probably think of self-help books and positive thinking techniques. Can you explain how what you're teaching is different?
Warren: I think the main difference is because of where I'm placing my joy. It's not me trying to psych myself up. I'm not being a cheerleader to people telling them, "You can do it. You can do it." What I'm telling them is, "No, you can't do it. And if you don't have your faith and reliance in Jesus Christ and God's goodness, if you don't have some settled assurances about who God is, you won't make it.
Joy is only found in the presence of God. He is the source of joy. We must connect the internal to the eternal, so that we can interpret the external in ways that create joy.
CP: Anything else to add?
Warren: I can't overemphasize the choosing part. That's what has made such a difference for me is recognizing that at the end of every day, how much joy I experienced that day was really up to me. I think, for the longest time, I just hoped it would happen but I didn't understand that I was in complete control of whether I experienced joy or not.
One of the reasons I wrote the book is I have a passion for people who are living with depression, and the mental illness that is a taboo subject in the Christian community. And if there are people who read this book and walk away and it saves a life, and I do believe that the message can save the life of some people who are just kind of hanging on by fingernails, it was worth the effort to write.