For the past few months, I’ve been working through issues in my life and how they’ve related to my faith. I’ve blogged through a devotional and learned more about being brave. I’ve gained courage through doing things I wouldn’t have considered before. I’ve gone through the motions as I’ve worshipped, and I’ve been paralyzed as I’ve considered the question of what comes next. I’ve also considered joy and what that means to me as a Christian. But, all the parts of this didn’t coalesce until yesterday, and it makes better sense to me now.
First, I want to define joy. Wikipedia defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” with such synonyms as delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, glee, exhilaration, elation, and more. Dictionary.com defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” All of these words I’ve written down are what I grew up with as the expression of joy. Having joy meant I was happy with my life and how it was going.
When I became a Christian as a teenager, I applied this same meaning to the Bible verses I read about joy. Verses such as John 15:11. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (emphasis mine)
Hebrews 12:1-2 is another example. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)
Here is an example from the Old Testament. From Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (emphasis mine)
Another one comes from Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (emphasis mine)
And finally, from Galatians 5:22-23. “But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I might have overdone it on the emphases and the examples, :-), but it was hard just picking these five. Scripture is full of examples calling us to joy. Joy in our lives. Joy in our Lord and Savior. Joy in our praise and worship. Because I equated joy with happiness, I thought that having Jesus in my life meant I was supposed to be happy all the time.
But, as we all know, we’re not happy all of the time, and I realized that as I grew into adulthood. I was confused and still am confused, to be honest, with these verses that say we’re supposed to be joyful. How does joy work when I’m not happy? The church doesn’t do a good job in teaching about this either. We come together to worship, and we don’t think we’re allowed to be sad. We think we’re supposed to be happy and reflect it in our worship. So, that’s what we do. We put up our shields, and we act like we’re happy and joyful even when we’re not. We talk about the people who look sad, and we might even admonish them for being sad. I’m guessing the reason we do this is because we equate happiness with joy, and God tells us to be joyful in Scripture.
In my life though, I’ve learned that joy and happiness can’t be the same. They can’t. Too much has happened to me for that to be true anymore. Why? My diagnosis of clinical depression, for starters. For years, my thoughts and feelings from this diagnosis made me feel worthless and think I was a failure at following Jesus. Another reason has been the amount of time I’ve spent in hospitals. Except for when I had my children, I was not in the hospital for happy reasons, and it was hard to be joyful. I made it through, but I’m not sure joy was a part of those times. At least, my definition of joy wasn’t. Then, there’s the grief. So much grief and loss since I became an adult. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws and other relatives of my husband, good friends, and people I consider to be family. All of which have hurt me down to my core. I’ve grieved during my life. We all have.
So, how does all of this work with joy? I’ve started first by being honest about my dark times and my dark places. I’ve worked on getting my physical symptoms straightened out, and I’ve spoken or written out words that needed to get out of my head. I’ve also been persistent through illness this year. We’ve not had much of it so far, and though my husband has had to make some lifestyle changes due to his diabetes, we’ve not had any hospital stays in 2018, knock on wood. 🙂 The final thing this year which has helped me to separate the definitions of happiness and joy has been, believe it or not, the grief I spoke of last week. I’ve grieved the loss of my college dad like I expected I would. I know I will see him again. That’s a fact. But, I will still miss him here. I will miss his wisdom and his musical talent. I will be sad he is not present with his family.
But, and this is a big but, I’ve begun to find slivers of joy in my heart in the last few days. This was the key to separating joy and happiness. I’m not happy David is gone or anyone else in my life, for that matter. I’m not happy when I get sick. I’m not happy with living in such a broken world. I do have joy though, and it has nothing to do with being happy. I have joy David is no longer in pain and is with our Lord and Savior. I have joy Jesus is with me even during the dark times. And I have joy God gave us all of our emotions. I think that’s the point about joy. It needs to be rooted deep in our hearts along with the other fruits of the Spirit so we will have a reservoir to draw from when the bad times come. Not to act happy when we’re not, but to know Jesus is our constant companion no matter what happens in our lives!
Praying God’s blessings on you all today!