I love anything fun. Especially if it involves laughing so hard that people crane their heads to see what's going on. And food shared with friends? They don't call 'em party trays for nothing.
But celebration goes far deeper than eating, drinking, and making merry.
Some of us celebrate Lent in a dimly lit sanctuary with sober music and ashes rubbed across our foreheads. Others celebrate communion with bowed knees and a lengthy silence. Even funerals celebrate a life well spent, despite the certainty of tears.
All celebration has this in common: a need to recognize something good, to acknowledge God at work in our lives. For a minute, an hour, a day, we intentionally put aside all the negative stuff and honor "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8).
Celebration doesn't just happen. It's a decision of the will and a discipline of the spirit: to see hope where there appears to be none; to proclaim good news despite the discouraging reports that surround us; to look beyond the present and glimpse a brighter horizon ahead.
On our best days, a celebration mindset isn't hard to manage.
It's those other days we need to talk about. The ones when grumpiness far outweighs gladness, and the call to celebrate falls on deaf ears.
Our role model for learning how to celebrate even when life goes awry may surprise you: Naomi, that whiny widow from the Old Testament.
Embrace the Good and the Bad
Though her name means "pleasant," Naomi was far from cheerful at the start of her story: In three verses (Ruth 1:3-5) her life fell apart. Her husband died, her sons married pagan women, then both lads dropped dead, leaving Naomi to provide for two foreign daughters-in-law. Only someone heartless—or clueless—would suggest she reach for the confetti in such a dire situation.
Naomi reacted as any of us might. She told grief-stricken Ruth and Orpah, "It is more bitter for me than for you" (Ruth 1:13). Sure, we get this. My pain is worse than your pain. How many times have I thought those words—even said them—while listening to a friend's litany of hurts, all the while comparing them to mine?
Naomi offered a bitter explanation for her plight: "because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!" (Ruth 1:13). Negativity rolled off the woman in waves. I've been there as well, seeing God's hand as a slap in the face, rather than as a loving, guiding presence in my life.
Yet moving forward with Naomi, it's clear something happened. Something good. She began to praise God, rather than blame him. When she heard of Boaz's kindness to her daughter-in-law, Naomi responded, "The LORD bless him!" (Ruth 2:20). Sounds like celebration to me.
Naomi was practicing what the New Testament calls "a sacrifice of praise" (Hebrews 13:15). Praising God when it costs you something, when it isn't easy but it's right. That's where the discipline bit comes in. The psalmist of the Old Testament well knew the challenge of celebrating when it hurts: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Psalm 43:5).
I will yet praise him. A decision, a discipline. When we lift our eyes from the pain of the moment to the promise of the future, our hearts and minds lift as well, giving us the strength to go on.
In Naomi's case, she began to put Ruth's happiness above her own: "My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?" (Ruth 3:1). And when Ruth found that home and bore a son, the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, "Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer" (Ruth 4:14). Though Naomi didn't speak, her joy was obvious as she "took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him" (Ruth 4:16).
Happy endings, in Scripture and in life, seldom come easily. They are hard won through a daily commitment to finding joy in the midst of junk and celebrating the good, rather than whining about the bad. In the words of the Teacher, "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other" (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Embrace them both and you'll discover the delicious fruit of this divine discipline: peace.