Can you eat your way to joy?

Does joy in life depend on how much you weigh?

This week, the Today Show debuted a new series featuring actress Valerie Bertinelli. Bertinelli has spent her life in the public eye. In 1975, at age 15, she got her big break in the sitcom One Day at a Time. In addition to acting, she’s had her own cooking show and been a spokesperson for Jenny Craig.

“Valerie Bertinelli is feeling positive about 2020,” the reporter said. That includes paying attention to her own needs.”

“When you’re busy taking care of other people you forget to take care of yourself. I’ve been working so hard for so long…I just want to know what true joy feels like,” Bertinelli said. 

Today said that Bertinelli brought joy to others through her TV roles while hiding her own sadness. Over the years she found comfort in food, leading to swings in her weight. But now, with the Today Show documenting her progress, she plans to eat better and lose weight to learn to feel better about herself.

Who can’t feel her pain?

Women of all ages are crushed by a culture that places a premium on youth and beauty. Any standard of beauty that would suggest that the lovely Valerie Bertinelli needs to lose weight is arbitrary, harmful, and impossible to achieve.

And if your eating failed to cover sadness, does it follow that you can eat your way to joy?

The Christian faith has a whole different path to joy that doesn’t depend on one’s weight, bank account, job prospects, number of Facebook friends, or anything that can go up and down.

The great English preacher, the late David Martin Lloyd-Jones, said that the essence of the Christian faith is to say that “Jesus Christ is good enough and I am in Him.” To say that “I’m not good enough” is to deny the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.

Joy will always be illusive if it depends on anything that can go up and down.  

But the good news is that you are so attractive to Jesus Christ that he left heaven to pursue you. When you are in Him, you have the joy of knowing that you’ve been approved by the only one who matters, and that his approval will never change.

Thanks-living

Years ago, the story goes, an admiral was speaking to a Navy Officer’s Wives Club. Before he began, he asked the wives to line up in order of rank. They dutifully complied without a word being said. He then lectured them that they didn’t have rank, their spouses did.

The wives smiled politely, but they knew better.

When we enter into a new situation, we instinctively size up where we fit in. Yet when Jesus left heaven to enter into his creation, he always took the bottom position. And at his last meal before his betrayal, he knelt to wash his disciples’ feet.

And he told us to do the same.

We’ve been studying Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts, about her personal journey from anxiety to joy. Her journey meant practicing giving thanks in all situations, even when it was hard.

The practice transformed her. It didn’t change her situation; it changed her.

And the transformation was ongoing. There was always another, deeper layer to a life of thanksgiving.

Naming blessings, and giving thanks for them, led her to live the blessings.

Voskamp says, “At the last, this is what will determine a fulfilling, meaningful life, a life…every one of us longs to live: gratitude for the blessings that expresses itself by becoming the blessing.”

It’s not just the Navy. Every day, someone or something reminds us where we stand in some pecking order.

But when we get down on our knees to serve Christ by serving others, when we empty ourselves of us, that’s when Christ fills us with Him.

And with Him comes joy.

Soul satisfying joy

One of the women who testified at the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the US Women’s Gymnastics team doctor who abused dozens of young women, was former gymnast Rachel Denhollander. She was the first to bring the abuses to light, and her courage inspired others to come forward.

But in the midst of sharing her horrific story, Rachel shared her faith: Because God exists, there is right and wrong. Because God is just, we can recognize evil and stand against it.

Then Rachel said this to Nassar: “I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from, and I pity you for it.”

Amid the darkness of abuse and fear and pain, there is still light. There is a God of love, who is love, who made us for love; to love each other and to love him. And not just love. God created us to experience deep, soul-satisfying joy, tenderness, and care. And yes, even glory and ecstasy.

In the creation story, God put the man to sleep, pulled out a rib, and fashioned the woman. The woman was created from the man, but the man wasn’t complete until the woman was complete.

Do you see? God designed us to experience his love, joy, tenderness, care, ecstasy, and even his glory, through each other.

Inside-Out

Last summer’s mega-hit was the animated feature Inside-Out, the story of an 11-year-old girl named Riley whose world is turned inside-out when she has to move with her family to a new city. Inside-Out is one of those kids’ movies parents enjoy too, because it captures so many of the emotions we all experience growing up.

The movie depicts five different emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust as characters in Riley’s head competing for control. At first, Joy is in control, but when things go wrong, Sadness takes over. How is it that Joy and Sadness relate to each other? The message, at least in part, is that all of those emotions are normal and we need them all, in balance, to live a normal life.

The thing is, we live in a culture which claims life owes us happiness. As we discover that real life doesn’t work that way, may people create personas on social media to project to the world a life that is happy and pulled together. But the truth is, sadness is sometimes the most appropriate response to the things life throws at us. In the Bible, Jesus was called a “man of sorrows.” The word “smile” is only used in the Book of Job, and then in an ironic way.

The Christian faith offers us a way of looking at life that gives us hope, while at the same time acknowledging the world as it is, sadness and all. Jesus never just said, “Put on a happy face.” He promised to take the sadness we all experience and redeem it. He promised to make our joy more complete for the sad things we experienced in this world.

If I could made a sequel to Inside-Out, I would introduce a new character called Gospel, who Riley would meet at church with her parents. Gospel would gently work with all the other characters to keep them in their proper place. Gospel wouldn’t save Riley from sadness. Gospel would help Riley live a life worth living.