The truth is, I felt too busy for joy. As I tried to bring myself around to attentively reading Anne Costa’s newest book, I could only think that Breaking into Joy was something for another time of my life—when my kids are settled, when I’m not in the car driving people around multiple times a day, when my house is organized, and when I am more consistent in my prayer life. But now? Joy?
Yes! If this book gets one point across, it’s that inroads to joy don’t take much time. They happen today. They just take a small commitment now. The present moment is the best place to start! And this is possible for each of us, thanks to the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
Here’s the secret: joy does not depend on our circumstances. It comes from God and cannot be reduced by suffering or hardship. Our circumstances may affect our ability to see the joy he is offering to us. But that’s exactly where Breaking into Joy comes in.
Honest Encouragement. A nationally-known Catholic speaker, Anne Costa tells stories, offers personal examples, and shares quotes from the saints to draw the reader in. She sets the tone of each page-long reflection with a Scripture verse, then unpacks a truth about joy. Each reflection then ends with a prayer and a “Joy Note”—a short take-away question that readers can use throughout the day to stay tuned in to joy in their lives.
Breaking into Joy is similar in style and format to Costa’s first book, Refresh Me, Lord! but it shows a maturing of her trademark friendly encouragement. Even as the author encourages readers to pursue joy, she doesn’t dodge a major roadblock that can keep people from experiencing it: the problem of suffering.
“How we choose to think about things is always within our control,” says Costa, and facing emotional upheaval “requires a true renewal of our minds in Jesus.” Far from giving pat answers to dealing with life’s challenges, she urges the reader to be raised up. Whether she’s quoting St. Catherine of Siena telling us to “buck up and remember who loves you” or inviting us to jump-start joy by making a small act of self-sacrifice each day, Costa remains eminently practical.
Try This. If the approach of one meditation doesn’t resonate with you, another of the book’s ninety-nine entries is sure to! Costa offers reflections on getting free from things that block joy and on lifting our hearts to God in praise as an opening to joy. She explains how God uses suffering to deepen our joy and how, even in failure, we can trust his mercy to lift us up. She has suggestions for how to let go of shame and how to grasp the everyday moments that reveal God’s presence.
Clearly, Anne Costa is full of ideas. But she also knows that just reading about joy won’t make much of a difference in our lives. We have to do something as well!
That’s why she has added “Joy Notes” at the end of each reflection. Many are no more than a few words, but as we go through the day, they can serve as a prompt for recalling the main point of the meditation and examining our progress. For example, in the chapter dealing with forgiveness as a fountainhead of joy, Costa ends with: “Isn’t it time to forgive?” When she exposes self-defeating inner dialogue as a joy killer, she asks, “What will you tell yourself today?”
You Decide! So is this a good book? Actually, that’s up to each reader. Though it is a handy and insightful guide, pursuing joy is a personal decision. Joy doesn’t strike like a lightning bolt; it deepens with time and practice.
More than a theological treatise or self-help book, this is a tool, like a 3-D road map, giving many-angled directions to reach the same end: God’s joy welling up from within us. Each of us has a slightly different path to unwrapping God’s gift of joy in our lives, because each of us has different life experiences. But even though no two readers are alike, Breaking into Joy offers something for everyone. As we lay hold of its ideas and suggestions, we will find ourselves becoming more joyful.
So I took Anne’s advice. Even though I slept through the alarm the day I was supposed to get up and begin writing this article, I remembered that God’s mercies are new every morning. I started my day with praise to let God lift my spirit and remind me of his greatness and goodness, instead of dwelling on my insufficiencies. And later on, I shared the truth of God’s unshakable love with my children. There definitely was a difference in my awareness of joy by the end of the day—and I know it’s just the beginning!
Hallie Riedel pursues joy as a busy wife and mother of four.
Breaking into Joy, by Anne Costa (softcover, 224 pp.), is available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673 or online at bookstore.wau.org.