JESSICA HETHERINGTON, Ecotheologian

Finding Joy in Discipleship (and the Kitchen)

If you follow me on social media, you know that I have been more intentional lately about making more plant-based meals for myself and my family. My spouse and I are moving toward a primarily plant-based diet, for both health reasons and, especially, as a response to the ecological crisis and climate change. Industrial agriculture is responsible for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, through both the release of methane from cattle farming, and the clearcutting of forests to meet the demand for meat consumption. Did you know that methane has “80% more warming power than carbon dioxide” once it has been released into the atmosphere?[1]

If you choose to eat meat, as I still do on occasion, it is much better to purchase meat from local, small farmers, who typically farm the animals in more humane and sustainable ways. The reality, though, is that the current demand for meat, eggs and dairy will not be able to be met through local, sustainable farming. The amount of meat eaten globally, especially in the Global North, must go down dramatically, if we are going to be effective in mitigating global warming.

The Kitchen is My Happy Place

So, I have been in my kitchen a lot lately; It is one of my ‘happy places’. I have always enjoyed cooking for my family, and dietary restrictions have made the shift to homemade meals necessary. And right now, as I become more familiar with the plant-based diet and learn more vegan recipes, my time in that happy place has gone up quite a bit.

Now, let me be honest about what often happens in my kitchen. Cooking new meals for a family of 5, with hungry kids home from school demanding snacks while I cook, fighting with one another over the TV, and then sometimes (often??) not liking what I make, does not always make for a pleasant time in the kitchen, no matter how much I love to cook.

Joy in the Kitchen

But lately, I have discovered that I have been experiencing a lot more joy in the kitchen than I normally do. Even with fighting kids. Why is that? What is that about? Why, in the last few weeks, have I felt even more joy in my kitchen, discovering and cooking new recipes?

Joy and Discipleship

What I have realized is that it is because of the move that I have made to eating more plant-based meals. It is because of the fact that, for me, choosing to adopt a primarily plant-based diet, for myself and my family, is a part of my discipleship. It is a part of my Christian discipleship, the way that I have chosen to follow Jesus Christ in this time of ecological and climate crisis. When I follow God in this way, when I live out my belief in God through my actions in the world, I experience joy. When I go into my kitchen and discover a new recipe to try out, learn a new technique for trying to make a vegetable “taste like bacon,” purchase a tool that cuts some of my prep time down, and then when I serve it to my family, regardless of how each of them might respond, I experience joy.

Joy is Deeper Than Happiness

Joy is deeper than happiness. Happiness has a temporal quality to it; it happens in time and space, and is inherently fleeting. We all seek after happiness, yes? And we place so much pressure on ourselves and others to be happy.

But joy is something deeper. There is a timeless element to it, an experience in which time has been suspended for a moment. Joy is an experience of, somehow, feeling ourselves a part of the rhythm and mystery of life. And, unlike happiness, it is not something that we can seek or go after; joy is something that comes upon us, and often fills us with feelings of delight, wonder, and surprise.

When I am in the kitchen and am cooking a meal that is both healthy and good for the climate, I am often happy, although not always. Sometimes I am stressed, tired, or not feeling well; sometimes I am frustrated that something isn’t working out or it is taking too long. And yet, sometimes, even in those moments when I am not feeling particularly happy, I feel a sense of joy. It comes upon me, surprises me, and stops me in my tracks.

Practicing Discipleship

That is because, whether I am happy or not, whether I feel like it or not, I am practicing discipleship. I am responding to the call that God has placed on my heart to follow God in this way. Discipleship is not meant to be easy; indeed, if something is particularly easy, it may not be discipleship! For Jesus has promised us that we must lose our lives in order to gain them, by which he means that we must give up our own ways of doing things, in order to act in the way of God (Matthew 16:25). And he has told us that we must pick up our cross and follow him; that means that we must pick the burdens that our faith places on us in order to follow the way of Jesus (Luke 9:23).

Discipleship is Not Easy

Discipleship is not meant to be easy. It’s not that God wants things to be hard for us; it is that to truly follow the way of Jesus, the path of love, compassion, mercy, and justice that he modeled in his life and carried through into his death and resurrection, means we must be prepared to give up the status quo; to fight against our own and others’ inclinations to fear and complacency; to work against a world of division and complicity and toward a world of wholeness and community.

Discipleship Can Spark Joy

And yet! And yet. In that very discipleship, in its very difficulty, there can arise the experience of joy. We can experience joy in picking up our cross, in losing our lives for the sake of gaining them! That is because joy is experienced when we are sitting inside the flow of God’s love. Joy is experienced when, despite our external circumstances, we discover some truth about God and the world. Joy is experienced when we endeavour to live a life of faith, when we seek to follow Jesus, however humbly, however imperfectly, however insignificantly it may seem.

That is the joy that I have been experiencing in my kitchen over the last few weeks. It the joy that I have found in discipleship. It is the joy that I have found in listening to God and being brave enough to do what God is calling me to do.

Finding Joy in Discipleship

I’m not always brave. Often, I am scared. And I am as good as anyone at choosing to ignore God, to avoiding God and God’s call on my life. But what I have been discovering over the last little while is that these moments of joy that I experience when I am living a life of discipleship, these moments make me braver. They help me to get past my fear. They help me to be better at listening to God’s call on my life, and responding. For I know that when I do, these moments of joy will happen again. Joy will bubble up inside me, giving me an experience of a certain timelessness and a feeling that I am moving within the Spirit of God.

In Romans, we are told, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NRSV). Indeed, the joy that I have been experiencing in my kitchen isn’t about the plant-based meals themselves. It is about the fact that when I am able to act in discipleship, when I am following Jesus Christ through my actions in the world, I am closer to living within the power of the Holy Spirit, and getting a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Where Do You Experience Joy?

Where do you experience joy in discipleship? What are the ways that you have been called to follow Jesus? How are you called to act in response to the ecological and climate crisis? Please let me know in the comments below, or send me an email (jessica@jessicahetherington.ca).

Whatever you are called to do, wherever you are called to act, there you will find joy. Thanks be to God!


[1] Environmental Defense Fund, “Methane: A Crucial Opportunity in the Climate Fight,” https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-crucial-opportunity-climate-fight#:~:text=Methane%20has%20more%20than%2080,by%20methane%20from%20human%20actions. Accessed December 9, 2022.

One response to “Finding Joy in Discipleship (and the Kitchen)”

  1. Thanks Jessica. I enjoyed this blog very much. I switched to a plant-based diet 9 or so months ago and it feels so good. It makes me so happy to eat this way and your article helped me to understand why. I found lots of support on the internet and from a few friends. It does get easier but I know it is much harder when you have a family. Good luck to you in this and your other acts of discipleship.🙏

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