The Spiritual Discipline of Celebration

 In Featured, Inspiration, Up

Written by Jody Slaughter

The Spiritual Discipline of Celebration is defined as:

Utter delight and joy in ourselves, our life, and our world as a result of our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty, and goodness.

Notice this definition says that our joy is a result of our faith and confidence in God, not a result of our circumstances. We practice this discipline because of God’s goodness, not just when we feel happy. We typically think of celebrating when there is a special occasion. Henri Nouwen says, “Celebration is not (only) a part of special occasions, but an ongoing awareness that every moment is special and asks to be lifted up and recognized as a blessing from on high.” As with all spiritual disciplines, it takes practice because it does not come naturally. Even when we are down or depressed we can cultivate joy and celebration to give us strength and balance. While it’s not a cure for one who battles depression, it can help broaden our perspective so that one thinks about things besides one’s feelings. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Besides giving us strength, joy is a lasting deep peace that all is well with one’s soul and is not as a result of momentary happiness. There are many ways to practice this discipline.

Start by learning to laugh at yourself and with (not at, with) others. There is a great chapter on humor and laughter in The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Archbishop said, “I don’t think I woke up and presto I was funny. I think it is something that you can cultivate. Like anything else, it is a skill. Yes, it does help if you have the inclination, and especially if you can laugh at yourself, so learn to laugh at yourself. It’s really the easiest place to begin. It’s about humility. Laugh at yourself and don’t be so pompous and serious. If you start looking for the humor in life, you will find it. You will stop asking, Why me? And start recognizing that life happens to all of us. It makes everything easier, including your ability to accept others and accept all that life will bring.”

Try some of the following practices taken from Richard Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline and Valerie Hess’ book, Habits of a Child’s Heart-Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines:

Sing and dance. Play. Be creative. Make family events into times of celebration and thanksgiving. Do things that nurture you. Find ways to celebrate all kinds of things – anything you can do to bring joy and laughter. Start a gratitude journal. Send thank you notes and cards. Volunteer for something you’re passionate about. Take advantage of the festivals of our culture, or join with other cultures, and really celebrate.

We are given another aspect to having joy from Jesus’ words in John 15: 10-11, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you, and that your joy may be complete.” Celebration is a natural response when we live a life of loving God and God’s creation! Joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit. Genuine joy is the result of God’s transforming work within us. “Many people try to come into joy far too soon. Often we try to pump people with joy when in reality nothing has happened in their lives.” (from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline)

We can ask ourselves, “How am I allowing Jesus’ redeeming love to bring transformation into my life?” Even though we live in an imperfect world where we will encounter very difficult circumstances, there is an opportunity to have a deep and lasting joy which we can celebrate. We are not called to celebrate hardships and evil, but to be aware of how God can transform and redeem our brokenness. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All things are certainly not good, but we can trust that God will be at work to bring about good in all circumstances.

This is not to say that we bypass expressing sadness, anger or any other difficult emotions. By expressing tough feelings in healthy ways we are better able to honestly practice this discipline of celebration. There are many examples in scripture of people sharing honest thoughts and feelings with God which then typically allows them to verbalize their praise for God’s provision in some way. The book of Lamentations teaches us of rebirth and recovery that comes from the honest and healthy expressions of grief, pain and anger. One such example is from Lamentations 3:19-23, “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Practicing Spiritual Disciplines help us to move beyond surface living into truth and help us to place ourselves before God so that God can transform us. May we practice this discipline of celebration by being aware of God’s presence and provision in the midst of life, which includes both sorrow and joy.

 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
  and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
  “The Lord has done great things for them.” Psalm 126:2

Jody Slaughter is the Spiritual Care Minister at Prince of Peace.

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