The headlines are filled with stories of the latest virus disrupting the lives of people all across the world.  This particular virus brings with it the fear of disease and death.  Extraordinary measures are being taken by health authorities to protect the general population.  News agencies report the latest statistics and the sad stories of those who have been infected, inconvenienced, or involuntarily quarantined.   It’s just the latest outbreak in the ongoing struggle of humanity against the unquestioned frailty of our existence.  The current crisis will most like pass in time, just like so many moments before it, but it will leave behind a changed reality for those caught up in the contagion.

Fortunately I have little to no risk of being exposed to this virus so I can lay my head down at night without worrying that I have been infected.  I did manage to “catch” a bad cold this week, the gift of someone around me who must have been struggling with the same malady.  Like that more serious virus, the common cold and flu are “contagious”, spread from one person to another despite precautions to avoid such exposure.  It’s a minor inconvenience, resulting in a couple of days of sniffling and coughing, but it soon runs its course and you begin to feel normal again…..whatever that is!   I certainly didn’t want the cold, nor did I purposely do anything to “catch” it…..but it caught me!  And despite my best efforts to the contrary, I evidently have shared that experience with my wife!  I’m pretty sure that’s something she would have preferred I kept to myself!

That’s just the nature of something that is contagious.  It spreads from person to person, from group to group, from community to community naturally.  There are things you can do to interrupt the process, but left uncontained something that is contagious will just keep spreading.  When talking about a deadly virus that contagious spread is something you want to stop ASAP.  But is it possible to share something positive in a proactive way so that it will keep spreading?  In essence, can we do anything to increase the likelihood that something good can become contagious, infecting people all around us?

I think I’ve personally witnessed countless examples of that this week.  I must be honest….I missed the point of what I was witnessing at first.  In fact, it was only on reflection this morning that this reality began to freshly sink in.   Why?  Because I had actually  witnessed “unbridled joy” on the TV last night and watched how it quickly spread to others……including to me!

My wife and I enjoy watching shows like “America’s Got Talent”, “The Masked Singer” and “American Idol”.  We like lots of other stuff too; she’s addicted to the Hallmark Channel and I tend to love shows with a little more action like FBI or NCIS.  But we both like those sometimes silly talent shows where individuals or groups stand in front a live audience, a panel of judges, and a few million watching in on the airwaves to strut their stuff, sing their hearts out,  tumble and roll, perform stunning magic tricks,  or share a creative art that you might not see anywhere else.  Yes, some of the participants really stink at what they do….but that’s actually part of the attraction.

Several times last night I witnessed pure moments of “unbridled joy” watching these shows. There was the moment of relief and total exhilaration when a trapeze act completed a daring routine blindfolded that had the audience and the judges sitting on the edge of their seats before exploding in a standing ovation.  There were the beaming smiles on the faces of the judges as a blind, autistic singer stunned the audience first with his talent, and then with his own personal reaction as he applauded himself.  And of course, nothing tops the moment when the champion was named and the whole room explodes in celebration.  In each of those incidents the joy couldn’t be contained…it spread like wildfire!

As I was considering what to write in today’s blog suddenly the thought hit me – situations where joy is “contagious” really aren’t that unusual. Seriously!   As I thought back over what I had done just yesterday I became aware of other such moments that I had just kind of glanced over. The contagion of joy was there……and I had even seen it…..but I didn’t fully realize how blessed I was to be a part of those moments at the time.

It happened when I saw the look on the face of a man I met for lunch when I surprised him by bringing along a mutual friend.  As I sat in that restaurant I noticed the radiant smile of a grandma lovingly holding her 3 month old giggling granddaughter.  After writing an encouraging text to a friend who is going through a tough time I received a warm acknowledgement of how much my involvement in his life has meant to him.  I even got one of those unrestrained “welcome home” greetings from my dog when I walked in my door that couldn’t help but bring a huge smile to my face.

Those moments had “infected” me with joy and brightened my day.  No, it didn’t involve winning a contest, sinking the three pointer at the buzzer, overcoming an insurmountable obstacle, or doing anything remarkable.  I simply was able to “spread” some joy to others and others “spread” some joy to me.  It was not contrived, manipulated, phony, or artificial.  It was a genuine reaction to a shared experience, whether that was something I saw on a TV show or in real life.  It was contagious.  You could literally see it growing, infecting others with a moment of unrestrained happiness.

We live in a world that is filled with problems.  There’s more than enough turmoil and discord to go around. Between the political divides, escalating military tensions, disintegration of traditional family values, economic upheaval, racial prejudice, leadership scandals, crime statistics, world health concerns, the refugee crisis, and the prevailing post-Christian world view, we are surrounded by negativity day in and day out.  Wouldn’t it be great if those of us who know the One who holds the whole world in his hands could become “carriers of joy”? What if we took more notice of those little moments all around us to spread a smile, bring laughter to the situation, lighten someone’s load, or appreciate others?  I truly think such actions would create “joy” that could become contagious.

John 10:10 Jesus said, “I am come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly”.  If an abundant life means anything it would seem to make sense that it is life filled with joy.  I know we can’t always live on the mountaintop – we experience the ups and downs of real life too.  But surely those of us who know Christ should be purveyors of joy. It should show on our faces, be expressed in our relationships, and lived out in our daily routine.  We should share it freely and look for it regularly in others.  As we become joyfully contagious we will impact the world around us in ways that we may never fully appreciate this side of heaven!   I know that’s true because I’ve never really personally met a lot of the people who have brought so much joy into my life…….like the acts on TV last night or that grandma in the restaurant yesterday afternoon.

I want to be a person folks want to be around.  I want to be happy for others as they celebrate life’s little victories….even if the team I rooted for didn’t win.  I want to notice the smile across the room, the gesture of kindness, the unselfish sacrifice, the warm hug. It doesn’t take much to spread joy.  Little things can go a long way to make this world a better place.  If some little “virus” can garner the world’s attention, at least for a while, what could happen if we really took on the challenge of making joy contagious?  Whose life could be changed? What hurt could be healed?  What moment could be brightened?  When I was a kid there was a cliché that said “Smile, God love you”.  You know, that’s not bad advice!  I think I’m going to try to smile a bit more and see if I can’t spread some contagious joy!

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