As I crossed the finish line at the Tulsa Marathon, I felt surprisingly strong and incredibly joyful. The events that morning were the most atypical of any marathon I had experienced.
If you’d have told me that I would eat donuts, stop to take selfies, enjoy a mid-race slice of pizza, and partake in jello shots during a marathon, I’d have said, “You are nuts!” None of those activities are consistent with optimal athletic performance. However, I truly enjoyed this marathon because I set aside optimal athletic performance in exchange for quality time with my daughter, Lexi, as we raced together, laughed together, and enjoyed life together.
Live With Joy
The most fascinating experiences of my life have been those where I’ve seen joyful people who, by most earthly standards, have no business being joyful.
On each of my three mission trips to Haiti, I struggled to wrap my head around how joyful the Haitians were. These beautiful people live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and they have limited food, clean water, sanitation, educational opportunities, health care, or material wealth. Yet, I’ve never met people who were so fun, stress-free, relational, and truly joyful.
Happiness Isn’t Joy
Happiness and joy are not synonymous. Happiness comes and goes based on circumstances and external factors. True joy is an emotion that comes from within and can be celebrated despite what’s going on around us. Joy comes more from who we are connected to than our circumstances. No matter what may be happening around them right now, joyful people are able to look at what lies ahead.
As a parent of young children, I had always believed that I wanted my kids to be happy. Later in life, someone argued that you shouldn’t want your kids to be happy, you should want them to be joyful. Their logic was based on the premise that happiness is a fleeting feeling, while joy is at the core of who you are. Bad things will happen, and no one can be happy all the time, but if one is deeply rooted in joy, those bad things will be less impactful.
The defining moment to me came just a few miles into the race. Someone had bought a box of donuts and was in the middle of the road offering them to runners. It didn’t even register to me, but Lexi stopped and grabbed a donut. She asked if I was having one, and I said no. I was content with my water, Gatorade, and energy gels. Lexi nudged me and encouraged me to have fun, so I threw out my race nutrition plan and had a donut. We laughed as our frigid hands could barely hold the donuts. Just a few blocks later, some spectators were offering jello shots and pudding shots to the runners. Lexi and I looked at each other, laughed, and said, “Why not?” For the first time in my racing history, I wasn’t racing against myself or a clock. I was just out there enjoying the experience and having fun. We continued to stop for non-approved race nutrition and extra boosts of jello and pudding. We also took quite a few pictures along the way and didn’t worry about our times. Our goal was to run the race together and have fun while doing so.
As we approached the last three miles, Lexi was in apparent pain. Her training injury was haunting her, and she wondered if she could go the distance, but that didn’t change her outlook. She continued to laugh and smile, although there were moments I couldn’t tell if she was actually laughing or crying from the pain. Nonetheless, we made it to the finish line, and she completed her first major race.
I learned a lot that day. I learned a lot about the priority of joy and the difference it can make in everyday life. In particular, I learned to always be joyful and to always compete with joy in your heart.
It's so easy to get caught up in our circumstances. We strive for happiness, and when our circumstances challenge us, that happiness quickly disappears.
I challenge you to start each day by looking in the mirror and seeing yourself for who you are. You're a winner. You're a child of God. You're unique. You're programmed for success. You have what it takes.
Make joy a daily choice. Opt for joy not because of your circumstances, but often, in spite of them. Not only will you love your new outlook on life, but your healthy attitude of joy will become contagious and positively impact everyone around you.