Today I flew to Chicago for the CRC Synod, putting me in line for a run through the joy gauntlet – U.S. Customs and airport security. I pull into the customs area and my heart sank seeing that the line-up is backed way up, and as I snake my way through zig-zagging line-up I’m getting grumpier each step. The soundtrack in my head is an orchestra of gripes and grumbles groaning out in minor keys. But somewhere in my heart I’m reminded of the choice to rejoice, and I get redirected towards joy.
But only for a moment because the concerto of complaints continues to echo inside of me. I’m learning joy is not merely a one-time decision but it comes alive through an ongoing, moment-by-moment redirection, a continued decision for joy, until my heart can actually catch another tune and tap out another rhythm.
With a long zig-zagging line, you get to see lots of faces. I’m taking in and observing people’s expressions as we trudge toward our turn with the “cheery” customs agent – and no one, I mean no one, is smiling, not anywhere in the neighborhood of a grin. I figure my choice of joy had better inform my face so I decide to smile. Not for or at anyone else but simply for myself, as a way for my face and heart to align. And not a weak, thin upward curl of the lips, but a beaming of the face that wrinkles the skin around my eyes. Do you know the effect, deep in your heart, of smiling? I’m thinking a vital part of living in joy is simply telling your face to cooperate!
As I’m enjoying the trickle-down effects of a smiling face, a thought comes to mind: how do I now get others to smile? And not just anyone – how can I get my assigned, grim-faced, steely jawed customs agent to crack a grin? I can’t help but smile as I brainstorm ways to eek a smile out of this all-too-serious government official (nothing that will land me in some back-room, mind you – well, most of my ideas wouldn’t).
I didn’t get the hoped for grin but the more important thing was the lift in my spirit – I don’t think I’ve had more fun in a customs line-up. But this was only the first stage of the gauntlet – next stop, airport security.
Here I’m given two options: 1) the slightly longer but less intrusive “bag-search only” line or 2) the no line-up but highly involved “full bag search and body pat-down” line. By now I’m up for some fun though, and after ensuring there’s no body cavity search, I’m lining up for the body pat-down. But another choice – do I go for the new high-tech, full body x-ray (giving somebody in some remote location a full-on view of my six pack joy … and so much more than they might prefer to see) or the body pat-down. I tell the security agent that I’m going to be away from the hugs of my wife and kids for a week so I’m going to stock up on some human touch and opt for the pat-down. And joy breaks out in the security line – not just a smile but a bona fide laugh from the security agent.
Alright, joy is starting to leak out in this sometimes unfriendly place. Body-pat-down guy and I yak it up about what’s in my pants (pockets) and the World Cup, and find out we’re both rooting for Holland. Re-buckling my belt, I walk toward my gate thinking I didn’t merely endure the customs/security gauntlet; I waltzed through it, learning the step by step option of joy.
I’m pretty sure this is how I want to walk through life.