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Joie de vivre

“This is the day the Lord has made.

Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

One of the many things I've learned from watching Cesar work with dogs is that dogs "live in the moment". I know this is a popular and overused phrase that sounds trite when spoken in conversation or when giving advice. While Oprah may be able to quote such platitudes on a Starbucks sleeve and get away with it, no one wants to hear such clichés when they are, say, waiting for the results of a painful biopsy. What does living in the moment mean anyway?

For dogs, as members of the animal kingdom, it means they don't have the intellect to brood over the past or to speculate about tomorrow. If a dog had a bad experience with a man in a red cap, he may associate that experience again when he sees another man in a red cap. But what that dog won’t do is sit around in the meantime feeling sorry for itself because of that bad experience or make itself miserable by fearfully anticipating a possible encounter with another man in a red cap in the future. The only moment that holds any significance to a dog is the one he is living right now, whether it’s facing a man in a red cap, going for a walk, or taking some time to groom his unmentionables. What bliss it must be to be so simpleminded that every moment is fresh and ripe with the joy of living.

Joy. Gladness of heart. The experience of delight. Happiness. It isn’t an unattainable and hollow sentiment; it is a tangible reality for every believer. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!” says Philippians 4:4. This is a command as surely as “Love one another.” But I’m not like a dog. I have memories of past events and past sins that haunt me. I have the ability to reason and project way out into the future, which brings anxiety. But with human intelligence also comes free will, and I can choose where I will live. Will I live in the past where regret, shame and anger lie in wait to rob me of joy? Will I live worrying about what tomorrow may or may not bring? Or will I choose to trust and enjoy God's presence today?

True joy is not dependent on my circumstances: past, present or future. It’s a choice I can continually make in the light of what Jesus has done to secure my happiness and make my joy complete. It is a profound spiritual discipline I must practice in order to achieve mastery. If I want joy, I must reign in my thoughts like an unruly dog, and walk right here next to the Master, who is Himself the author, the giver and the joy of life.

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