Susan Sparks: Don’t postpone joy

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To paraphrase Erma Bombeck, think of all the women on the Titanic, who, on that fateful night, said no to dessert.

OK, so we may not be on the Titanic. But sometimes life can make us feel like we are sinking, whether it’s under the weight of stress, work demands, family issues, medical problems or difficult people. It’s easy in these times of crisis to forget dessert. To put it another way, it’s easy to postpone joy.

We often think: “I’ll get to it. I’ll do it later. I’ll be happy when X, Y or Z happens.” But as we defer happiness, time keeps ticking. Suddenly, we realize that years we can never get back have passed by while we were waiting for the right time. None of us have the luxury of putting off anything, especially joy! As the book of Proverbs tells us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

Let’s take a moment to consider three strategies that can help us embrace rather than postpone joy. Since memory is not my forte, I’ll frame them as an acronym: “N-O-W.”

N: Never ignore an opportunity to laugh! It’s the most important healing tool we have. Sadly, thanks to low self-esteem or high self-doubt, some of us don’t believe we deserve to be happy. So, we bury our smiles and delay our joy. Newsflash: We deserve joy! We deserve to be happy. As Jesus taught, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:11).

We deserve happiness. And not only do we deserve it, when we claim our joy, we help others claim theirs too. As Louis Armstrong sang:

“When you smilin’, when you smilin’

The whole world smiles with you.

Yes, when you laughin’ oh when you laughin’

The sun comes shinin’ through.”

O: Observe. Many times, we opt for anger or resentment instead of joy. But if we take a moment to observe the situation we’re in a little closer, we may choose differently. The next time someone says something that makes you mad, ask yourself whether it was out of malice or ignorance? If it was malice, then walk away and protect your joy. If it was simple ignorance, then laugh at the mistake, correct the person if necessary, and go on your way. Either way, you will have chosen joy.

W: Wallow in gratitude. No matter where we find ourselves in life, there are things for which we should be grateful, even if it’s just opening our eyes in the morning. One of the best ways to remember our blessings is to start our day with a prayer of gratitude. The actor Denzel Washington once suggested a great way to ensure that prayer happens. He explained that you should put your shoes way under the bed at night because then, you’ve got to get down on your knees each morning to find them.

Years ago, a woman in our congregation adopted a dog from the local shelter. It was a cute collie/retriever mix that was within days of being euthanized. After the paperwork was done, she took him home and immediately named him “Just-in,” for just-in-time.

Just-in’s story is our story, too.

Maybe you feel stuck in a dead-end job. Maybe you’ve let your relationship fizzle out. Maybe you feel your dreams have faded or your sense of joy has disappeared.

Many of us are walking this earth physically alive but dead of spirit, operating at the level of our social security number — existing, rather than living. But time is ticking ... as the words from the Jewish Talmud warn, “when we are called to our maker, we will each be held responsible for all the opportunities for joy that we ignored.”

The time to be happy is now.

The time to make positive changes for a better life is now.

Grab life’s desserts! Laugh! And wallow in your opportunities for joy ... before it’s too late.

— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is a nationally known speaker, preacher and author specializing in the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email at, or her website,