Joy is one of those qualities in life that we all want, but aren’t always sure how to find or even define.
A lot of people might see it as a feeling, an emotion you experience when you’re doing something pleasurable. There was a time when Dan Lord would have agreed with them. But through a lot of trial, error and soul-searching, he ultimately came to see joy not as a feeling, but as a choice.
In the mid-1990s, Dan was – in his own words – a quasi-famous rock star whose band had CDs, music videos, great fans, and even a few connections in the music business. Though he didn’t live the stereotypical musician’s lifestyle, he explained to me on Christopher Closeup, “Along the way, I got swept up by all kinds of bad habits and vices…I think if you’re not grounded in Christ, it’s just inevitable.”
Eventually that worldly success left Dan wondering if there wasn’t more to life. That’s when God stepped in and guided him toward a new path. Or rather, re-introduced him to an old path.
Dan had been raised Catholic by a father who was a convert. Chuck Lord, who as a child was abandoned by his own father and mother, came to the faith in a roundabout way. As Dan writes in his new book, Choosing Joy: The Secret to Living a Fully Christian Life, “Virtually nobody he knew as a youth was Catholic – most of them were ‘holy rollers,’ as he called them, an ignorant, shallow, unemotional bunch of Flannery O’Connor characters for whom Catholicism may just as well have been Hinduism. He came into the Church circuitously but in relatively short order: at age 23, in fact. Catholicism’s elegant logic and transcendent beauty had lured him in…”
Dan would also find himself lured back to the Church after years of having moved away from the practice of his faith. He told me, “The actual things that were disentangling me from the world in a quiet, subtle way were, for instance, certain reading materials that I would pick up: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton’s stuff. They would energize me, really get me thinking, but without fully entering into a relationship with Jesus. You can read apologetics and church doctrine, and [understand] with your intellect that it is good, worthy and valuable. That doesn’t necessarily bring you into a relationship with Jesus, but it’s a good starting point.”
Coming to see joy as a choice was another vital step for Dan, who cites the Gospel of John, chapter 15, as bringing this to light for him. Specifically, it was Jesus’ statement, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Dan realized that joy was tied to following Jesus’ “whole seamless garment of commandments” with an open and trusting heart, even when it’s troubling and confusing. That’s how even people who might naturally tend toward grumpiness can decide to be people of joy.
Dan eventually achieved the final piece of the puzzle through establishing a relationship with Jesus. It’s a process he likens to the successful marriage he’s built with his wife, Hallie, another member of the House of Lords (my term) who I’ve interviewed. Dan explains, “You have to have a relationship with [Jesus] in the same way I have a relationship with my wife. When I come home to Hallie after a day’s work, it’s not just a matter of me doing things that a father and a husband must do – like, ‘I will change that light bulb and take out the trash, then I will help clean up the dishes, and then that’s it. I’ve been a great husband and father.’ It’s not enough. I have to enter into relationship with my wife. Otherwise it’s not real; it would become sterile and die. It’s the exact same thing with Jesus…That’s the journey that God has in mind for every single one of us.”
Choosing joy has given Dan an entirely new and counter-cultural outlook on life. For one thing, he now sees joy as a responsibility. As someone who’s worldly view of freedom had always been to do whatever he wanted and to heck with everybody else, this was an especially tough lesson. He says, “You become enslaved to your own passions or selfish desires, and you’re not really having a free life at all. In giving ourselves to the people around us, the people God puts into our lives, by putting them first, it’s so crazy and paradoxical, but that actually frees you…But the salvation that Jesus gives us isn’t just like your golden ticket to heaven like Willy Wonka. He’s handing you a responsibility. He’s saying, ‘Here it is. This is your guarantee of heaven if you choose it every day.’ That’s the responsibility that we have, but in doing that, joy blossoms.”
Dan realizes that getting Catholics to see those truths is difficult, but he himself gets sustenance from the sacraments. He wishes people would realize how powerful sacraments like Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation are. More than just excuses to have a party, these actions are transformative to our spiritual lives.
Dan wonders if part of the problem is that we have lost our Catholic imagination, the ability to comprehend in our mind’s eye that ordinary bread can become the body of Christ. He thinks the arts can play a role in bringing people back to the Church: “I think the Holy Spirit designed it this way because God is so creative. By giving us the Catholic Church, we live our faith lives in a way that wakes up our imagination. I think history proves that. Where the Catholic Church is, there is an explosion of creativity. I would like to see that unleashed in our own time.”
In the end, Dan’s message is that joy and Jesus are inextricably intertwined for all of us. He says, “All the gifts that we have in our lives, whether we know it or not, are from God. He gives them to us in order to be happy. We don’t have to know that. God is so humble that we don’t have to know that the gift that we’re enjoying is from Him. But no thing gives joy of itself. You can go out and buy a new car, but the car isn’t giving you joy. You can be cultivating one of your own talents, but it’s not the talent itself that’s giving you joy. Real joy for Catholics and Christians can only come from Jesus. So you can have the most satisfying career or wonderful talent that you’re expressing on a daily basis – and that’s wonderful. God certainly wants you to enjoy it and be happy with it. But ultimately, it can’t give you what you’re after. We have to draw our life and our joy from Jesus; otherwise even the greatest gift is going to run dry.”
To hear my full interview with Dan Lord, click on the podcast link:
Christopher Closeup Podcast – Guest: Dan Lord