How fitting that my Bible Study group began a study of Joy last week and I have been following the Joy Dare prompts this year! And how fitting that the month of Joy comes in one of the darkest seasons, right before spring...right when we need it the most. This is the month of anticipation, of joy breaking through, of awaiting our deliverance. From winter. From captivity.
I wrote this for my Bible Study group:
I got to thinking about the plethora of literature that's been generated in recent years about happiness. A website called Happiness Club lists the top 20 books on happiness. Amazon and Goodreads both have lists and lists of books about Happiness. I've read a few of them myself. Most notably, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, where I learned that Happiness is about learning to simplify, organize my closets, and have more fun. Clearly, we live in a culture where we are longing for something. We call it Happiness, but I'm convinced we are really after Joy...because we are after something that can only come from outside ourselves...ultimately, God.A number of other thoughts have come tumbling through since then. I wonder what it means to have joy or to be joyful when you aren't happy? If we make a distinction between Joy and Happiness, can we assume they are independent of each other? Some people describe Happiness as something that is based on circumstances. We are happy when things are going on our. Joy is independent of circumstances. Something we have from within, despite circumstances. Or, perhaps, something that comes from without, that comes from a reliance on something greater than ourselves.
I like the idea. But what does it look like? How do we have joy when we are mourning? In the midst of sadness? In the midst of struggle? When we are tired, broken, defeated, frustrated, angry...
I'm not claiming to have answers. I just wonder. Romans 12:12 says, "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." And again, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Seems like a pretty impossible standard. Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing?
I also started thinking about people I know, whom I would consider joyful. ...or not. So, my neighbor, who was previously a drug addict, who has been clean for years now, has a daughter in high school, married to a sweet Hispanic guy who experiences a lot of discrimination, raising her "surprise" baby now, low income, watching previous friends die from overdoses or gang related violence, working to help clean up our part of the city... She has joy. Definitely. I mean. I can't even figure it out. Because I know that sometimes she's sad and she struggles, and she doesn't hide that. But somehow, she's always overflowing in joy.
I don't know what it is. I just know that isn't me. And I also know you cannot fake it. You can try to see the silver lining all the time. Try to see the rose in the midst of the thorns. Try to think of how it's always better than it could be. But, honestly, those things feel forced. There is something so genuine and real about the truly joyful people I meet. And it seems to me that it's sort of like grace. It's not something you can earn or create. It's something you are given and you must open your hand and receive it. TRYing will get you nowhere. Acceptance is the only path. Accept the grace of joy.