This past weekend I taught at our house church gathering about Joy because it’s the third week of Advent. I love our house church because it is small, there is no production elements or show, it’s literally a bunch of people that decided we are the Church; and started meeting together.
But I’m such an introvert that teaching in this setting is so tough for me. I am much more comfortable at other speaking gigs where there are hundreds or thousands of people, and I can’t really see them. Instead, house church is vulnerable, authentic and raw. In fact, this weekend when I taught, I was sweating the whole time, and trying to make eye contact but nervously looking away and then totally lost all my composure and shared about my own struggles and then cried.
Welcome to the hot mess that is me, people.
Joy as a Feeling
Biblically speaking, joy is defined in two ways: as an emotion or feeling and then also as a state of being. Joy as a feeling or emotion is what you feel when you see a friend you haven’t connected with in a long time and when life seems to be going your way. Its when sometimes I drive with Nelly circa 2000 blaring out my speakers and my windows are down. THIS IS NOT A JOKE. But also, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 is a great example of this: Mary is singing praises to God because she is overjoyed that she is with child and that child is the Messiah and she gets to play this huge role in his plan.
Home girl is st-o-ked.
I remember finding out I was pregnant. I always had this elaborate plan to wait and then tell Cy in such a way that would just floor him, but each time I’ve lost all composure and just run up to him screaming my head off. This type of joy is the type of feeling that overcomes you, that you can not contain. It overtakes your emotions and that’s the end of it. You are no longer held responsible of the squeals, tears, or laughter that will follow. You have been warned.
That is the first Biblical definition of joy. But it’s not the only one. And thank God for that. Because we are actually commanded to be joyful. And if I was expected to be giddy all the time, then my whole life would be a sham and failure.
I mean seriously, I used to be really happy and joyful most of the time. Life has sort of gotten the best of me and I am much more sarcastic, jaded and cynical at times. I truly don’t mean to be, but I am also exhausted and I worry, so these things steal moments of joy that I could be experiencing on the daily. When I am completely in my head, I miss these cues of joy that I could easily partake in. This is partly why spiritual disciplines and mindfulness has become such a part of our daily routines around here: I find that when I stop my head for ten minutes, I notice my surroundings, and I have the beat of the Spirit in my view, I am much more able to be present where I am at, and experience joy as an emotion.
But man, honestly, I have to work for it. It doesn’t come as easy to me as it used to. I honestly wish it did, but I think that at the very least my awareness of my pessimistic outlook is, at the very least, a good first step.
Joy as a State of Being
The second definition of joy that we come across in Scripture is more akin to a state of being. It’s a command that we are told we need to live by, because joy, after all is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s not the emotional type of joy that we just discussed, but instead it’s this steady flow of joy and resilience that is based on hope and trust. It’s a response to life, no matter what emotional state you are in. It’s something much deeper, more substantial and maybe even harder to recognize in the mirror.
This type of joy is the response we are commanded to have during afflictions or persecutions. It is joy that resembles resilience and fortitude, strength and persistence of waiting on God when the emotional side of joy seems distant and dead.
I’ve been there.
I can’t actually look back at those times and describe them as joyful. Perhaps, this is because my definition of joy has been off for sometime, but also because I am not sure that I truly wade through the hard times with joy at the forefront of my mind. I remember being in depths of pain and heartbreak, and till knowing that God was good. I remember being depressed and feeling small and vulnerable, wounded and broken and knowing that I was not alone. But I don’t remember feeling joyful about it. But if joy is fortitude and trust and foundation, then yes, it was there.
Where to Find Joy
Joy can sometimes be found in the smallest of ways. Remember, if it’s actually defined by strength and trust in God, this foundational sort of presence, that makes sure we are getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other, than we have to look for joy in the smallest of ways.
I used to wait for joy like it needed to surprise me, to find me and to whisk me off my seat like some romance novel. But in the midst of the daily, the tired and the sleepy, the struggles of faith, doubt, fear, and the un-ending question of what I will be when I grow up, joy seemed to stop finding me. But I have now realized that joy sometimes does find us, and it does so unexpectedly, but these times are few and far between. These are the gems of life, not the norm. Instead, joy is here. It’s within each of us, it’s a gift and something that we can rely on. We don’t have to look far, we don’t have to conjure up a smile, or a giddy emotion. No. Instead, joy is the coffee in the morning that wakes you up and gets you going. It is when you remembered to put on music while you make dinner, or it is the bath that you took because you splurged on a $3.50 bath bomb that proved to be well worth it.
It is self-care; it is calling a friend. It is sitting quietly, or having a dance party to music. Joy is all the little things that point us towards the bigger picture. It is being intentional and aware and alive even when life isn’t going our way. It is being wiling to laugh or cry merely for the fact that you are paying attention enough to care. Joy is found in daily life: in the mundane, the traffic, the work grind, the thing you have said 1,000 times. Because the thing about joy is not simply here to surprise us: that is it’s biggest gig, it’s home-run tactic. But if we rely solely on this, we will miss all the plays that lead up to it.
Jesus came and he did one thing at a time: He healed and he ate meals, he traveled, he spoke, he sat alone, and he just did a few things each day. His big proclamation, the cross, was the ultimate joy, but the rest of it all? It all had to happen to add up to the big reveal of the empty tomb. Because each time Jesus made time to do something intentional, He showed us the route to finding joy. Joy is not only found in the culmination of things; in the end game. It is not how things will ultimately turn out, but it is the journey that we are taking to get there. It is the mud on the blind man’s eyes, it was the water turned into wine and the meals that fed 5,000. Joy is the culmination of events that lead up the biggest surprise of them all. It is the conversations and work for a marriage that lasts, it is the daily grind of praying and being intentional so that you don’t miss the small stuff, and it is the reward we get at the end of this thing. The cross and empty tomb surprised all of us in its magnificent display of love and affection, of miracle and the unimaginable, but it’s the meals we share in His presence, the relationships He gives us, and the moments that are ours alone that woo us.