“Joy is not a flag Jesus plants in us; it is a fruit he grows in us”

November 18, 2012 | 21 comments

I received a copy of a new book while I was at the monastery this week. I planned to read it when I got home, but as soon as I glanced at the first page, I knew I’d been given something special. I ended up spending hours poring over its pages, soaking up its insights and nodding and just about saying out loud, “Finally, someone is explaining this in a way I understand!”

That book is Choosing Joy by Dan Lord, and you just have to read it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dan, he was once the lead singer of a popular punk band and is now a devout Catholic. He’s the husband of Hallie Lord, a friend of ours, and the editor of Catholic Exchange. He’s also one of the most talented writers I’ve encountered.

To give you a feel for his writing, here is the beginning of Chapter 1 of his book:

Joy is not something you would expect to find in someone like my dad. His father abandoned him and his younger brother when they were both infants. His mother stayed, but she was hard-shelled and aloof. The three of them blew through the slums of 1940’s Atlanta like fallen leaves, moving to and from squalid apartments with gaping holes in the walls and broken plumbing. Everyone around them endured the same dreary poverty; one family they knew literally lived in a chicken coop. The males of this world were almost all like my dad’s father: human driftwood, coming and going as they pleased, pathetically lazy or darkly savage. My dad once described for me a fight he witnessed between two men which culminated in one of them slicing open the other’s stomach with a straight razor.

Would you believe that Dan’s father went on to experience profound joy in his life, thanks to his relationship with God? Using his father’s story as a launching point, Dan spends the rest of the book pondering that most pressing of human questions:

How do we find joy when our earthly circumstances are miserable?

And — here’s what I loved — he first takes a hard look at what joy is. This is an important question for those of us whose default state is a spiritual dry spell, who don’t often have emotionally powerful experiences of God. For a long time I thought that that meant that I just wouldn’t get to experience the whole “Christian joy” thing, but I’ve slowly come to understand something that Dan hits home in his book: that joy is not the same thing as a surface-level emotion; that it’s possible to have all sorts of mental or physical tribulations on the surface, yet still have true joy deep within your heart.

It seems like a lot of folks I know are struggling right now. Some are having financial problems, others family problems; some are dealing with physical or mental health issues; others are just bummed out about the state of the world. Many of them report that the worst of it is the impact it’s had on their spiritual lives. “It’s one thing to face this endless stream of one problem after another, ” someone I know said recently, “but by far the hardest part is that all of this has made my spiritual life like a barren wasteland.” She seemed to feel guilty as she lowered her voice and added, “My relationship with God doesn’t bring me happiness anymore.”

If you feel like this, or even close to it, read this book. It doesn’t offer quick-fix solutions (Dan points out that Christian joy isn’t an instantaneous thing that happens the moment we believe: “Joy is not a flag Jesus plants in us; it is a fruit Jesus grows in us”). There are no promises that it will make all your problems go away and leave you in a peppy mood for the rest of your life. It’s better than that. It’s a field guide for wading through the thorny trails of earthly life, and finding the only thing that is real and true underneath it all. It’s a detailed instruction manual for making your soul fertile soil for the seeds of the Holy Spirit, from whom all true joy springs.

This is one of the most needed books to have come along in years. It answers just the right questions, in just the right way, at just the right time. You won’t be sorry you read it.


  1. Jeffrey Miller

    Sounds really good, added to my wish list.

  2. Laura

    I got my copy in the mail the other way and just have to finish up one other book before I can start this one. This is SOOOO me right now 🙂

  3. Becky

    Why are some people posting in a different language? What language is it? Are the rest of us supposed to understand it? What does it mean?

  4. The Reluctant Widow

    I had seen Hallie’s announcement about the book on her blog but being that I am in a state of wanting to wallow in self-pity and misery, I thought “oh, I’ll just skip that one.” Now, as I read your post, I know I need to read it. I love the sentence you quoted, “Joy is not a flag Jesus plants in us; it is a fruit Jesus grows in us.” That’s going to be taped everywhere in my house, on my phone, in my car, you get the picture.

  5. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    Wait, is that Moxy Wife’s hubs? I need to get my hands on that book 🙂

  6. Fr. Christopher M. Zelonis

    Jennifer, (1) Best wishes on your reality show. It sounds like your column reads-the humor I enjoy. (2) “Choosing Joy” sounds like it’s written in and for our times. A satirical newspaper once headlined a papal rant to the effect that, “God Ain’t Said [Aught] To Me.” The article unfolds with typical blasphemy, but the headline reminded me that many saints endured tremendous aridity while remaining faithful to the Sacred Liturgy, works of mercy, and personal prayer. I shall have to investigate the Lord’s work so that parishioners and others can profit therefrom.

  7. Suzanne Beck

    This reminds me of a horrid time I went thru a few years ago and I remembered reading that God ‘inhabits our praise,’ and so to grow closer to God, we should simply PRAISE him, since he ‘inhabits’ the praise, we would in effect be drawing ourselves closer to him. I started that (mainly by singing the old Imperials song–Praise the Lord; lyrics here: http://www.songlyrics.com/the-imperials/praise-the-lord-lyrics/ –that really described my situation at the time.) After just a few days, I really did begin to experience a phenomenal joy in the midst of a horrid situation that lasted for well over a year. God WILL give us joy no matter what if we praise him and recognize that he is in control. Thanks for the reminder, anxious to read Dan’s book!

  8. Mary rue

    Timing is everything. I too need to read this book ASAP. (See my most recent post on The Death of a Son.

  9. Mary rue

    Timing is everything. I too need to read this book ASAP. (See my most recent post on The Death of a Son.)

  10. Cathy Dee for OSV

    Thanks for the wonderful review, Jennifer! We at OSV are so excited to share this book with everyone. Let us know how you like it!

  11. James

    St. Thomas Aquinas also had insightful things to say about joy. This comes from his commentary on Galatians, ch 5, lecture 6 on verses 22-23, “But the ultimate end that perfects man inwardly is joy, which proceeds from the presence of the thing loved. And he that has charity already has what he loves: “He that abideth in charity abideth in God and God in him (1 Jn 4:16). And from this springs joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4).”

  12. Brad

    “Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just.” Psalm 92: 14-16a

    “God our Father, by the death of your Son, you planted the seed of the tree of life deep in this earth. By his Resurrection, you gave it light and warmth. By the gift of the Spirit, you water it with the waters of life that flowed from his side on the Cross. May our lives bear its fruit through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” {Morning Prayer, Magnificat, November 19, 2012

  13. Bonnie

    When I got to the part on your post that said, “..that it’s possible to have all sorts of mental or physical tribulations on the surface, yet still have true joy deep within your heart.” I stopped and did a “heart-check” asking myself, do I feel joy DEEP in my heart? And you know what? The answer is YES! I have more tribulations than I can shake a stick at…if I listed them, I’m not kidding, you’d be thinking “I’m glad that’s not me. I’ll take my own problems, any day, thank you.” And I don’t feel joy or happiness, and have been wondering if I feel off the track somewhere. I have amped up my prayer life, and still, my affect is flat. But deeply in my heart, there is a joy, and there’s no place else I could ever go or be, except where God wants me right now. Thanks for this post. It’s a sign to me. I’m going to ask for this book for Christmas!

  14. TracyE

    I just started reading it this past weekend, I’m no speed reader and I’m really trying to absorb each chapter. I don’t know why but the part on “we CHOOSE joy” really stuck with me…it’s a mental decision to be joyful, a constant work in progress just as our spiritual life is a lifelong growing experience. Joy doesn’t just happen. I think we often just expect it to be handed to us like a present and that just isn’t the case.

  15. Connie Rossini

    I’m going to put this on my Christmas list as well. For me, joy has a lot to do with trust. If I can learn to trust God over my own desires and feelings, then I can find joy no matter what the circumstances. But trust is hard!


  16. Gina

    It sounds fantastic. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

  17. Jane Hartman

    I spent many years in a joyless, dry, fearful Christianity. When I was received into the Catholic church, I experienced such joy I can’t tell you! I was walking on air for months as if each day was a diamond. I know that this would eventually subside but it was life changing. I can’t wait to read this.

  18. Grace Sanchez

    I look forward to reading this book. I just heard about it today on EWTN.
    There are days when I have to remind myself to look for the joy in my life.
    I know I will find it because I know it is there. I just have to focus.

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