“All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” – Proverbs 15:15
In the show Parks & Rec, there are two co-workers, Tom and Donna, who develop a tradition together. It’s called “Treat yo’ self.” In this daylong, sometimes multi-day celebration, the single organizing purpose is to… treat themselves. Do nice things for yourself. Spoil yourself. Extravagant gifts, spa time, luxury items, entertaining events – all for yourself. It’s a day for you to do you. If America had a life verse for its past fifty years, this would be it: “treat yo’ self.”
In one sense, this is nothing new, or even bad. One of the chief ways God sets apart His people is through Sabbaths and festivals – times to celebrate. Whoever came up with the idea that game playing and laughter were a no-go on Sundays has not spent much time studying Old Testament feasts. The main difference from Tom & Donna is that God has designed us to treat ourselves by treating others.
But this verse brings up a bigger question. Is there any way I can feel more like every day is a “treat yo’ self” day? God tells us here that for the cheerful of heart… every day, even every moment, is one long, continual feast. That might seem like a little bit of a stretch on a dark, rainy Monday morning, when you’re stuck behind an accident.
The first part of this verse is a whole lot easier to understand. If you’re afflicted, if you’re beat down and barraged with troubles, you’re not going to be jumping out of bed in the morning. But the second part of this verse turns that idea on its head. In fact, the second half of the verse causes us to revise our definition of an “afflicted person”. She’s not afflicted because life keeps throwing her curve balls. If that were the case, the second half of the verse would read: “but those who feast continually have an easy life.”
Instead, it says: “The cheerful of heart have a continual feast.” Wait a second. That makes it sound a lot like your external circumstances are dependent on whether you’re joyful or not to begin with. How is that possible? Maybe the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapists and gurus of our world aren’t so far off, after all. They’ll tell you if you feel good, if you focus on the positive, if you channel good vibes, then good things will happen to you.
There’s two problems with that. It’s not quite true, and they (CBT gurus) can’t ever give you a sustainable reason to feel good. Christians can continually be cheerful of heart because we’re forgiven. We’re accepted and loved by God. And God, the owner and operator of the entire world, is always working everything for our greatest good – which is our relationship with Him. When we adopt that attitude, or that posture towards life, life itself starts to look different. The circumstances and events may be largely the same, but it’s the difference between grocery shopping when you’re on vacation versus grocery shopping at home. It feels different.
When you realize that God wants you to go from one hour to the next in a continual feasting mode, it can be somewhat discouraging how often we pout our way through our own party. The good news is that God opens our eyes again to see His goodness when we turn back to Jesus. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Ps 43:5)