I’d like joy, complete joy please.
I can’t remember when our editor sent out the Redbud Post topics list for this year…but it must have been near this time last year. I remember skimming the topics and skipping over this month’s: Joy.
This wasn’t something I was ready to write about. So I skimmed the list again and quickly added my name to the ones I wanted to share about. Then, reluctantly, I came back to this topic… and after a brief internal struggle, added my name to the other ladies who had already chosen it.
By this time next year, maybe I will have something worth sharing, I thought. If not, my plan was to dig for it…or back out.
So, do I have something worth sharing now that the time has come? (Much faster than I thought it would, I might add.) I don’t know. You will have to gauge for yourself.
Not Where I Want to Be
It has been another year of God’s faithfulness. I started the year in the last place I’d hoped to find myself: my grandfather passed suddenly and I found myself completely disoriented. On top of this, I was moving out of my current housing and the job I’d had for the past year. There was sorrow and grief, and even anger.
Yet life kept coming—the world unchanged by my circumstances. I moved, worked, got into graduate school, traveled, returned, got into a rhythm of classes and homework—and new community.
The year tumbled from one loss, to another. My uncle passed, the world shifted again. I grasped for my to-do list, bent my head to my responsibilities, and moved forward.
Now here I am. It’s October and finals are just around the corner. The last few weeks I’ve stumbled through sickening anxiety amidst all my to-dos… and just as the mental distress dissipated I got another email reminding me that I signed up to write an article this month.
The word stares at me.
Peace as Opposed to Joy
My mind misremembers a verse, “My joy I give you! I do not give to you as the world gives to you – let your joy be complete…” Yea, I think. You sure don’t give as the world gives! At least with the world, I know what it will cost! I can put my hands on it, own it, and demand it – because I have paid for it!
Then I realize that my mind is giving me the words of Jesus incorrectly. It’s not joy, it’s peace that he gives. Peace He gives, with the tag line to not be afraid (John 14:27).
I remember sitting in Yellowstone National Park—beside a large school bus that had been my new friend’s home for more than a year—and having a conversation with her about joy.
I don’t remember the exact words, I just remember that she wasn’t in agreement with me. Her face glowed and her eyes were lit up as she shared her thoughts and beliefs on joy. Something about how it wasn’t something that grew over time in our lives, but something to take hold of and dwell in. Something to let be our stance…. something that she was claiming she had, and I was finding elusive. Something she wanted me to just step into. But I felt I had yet to find.
From what I remember, it was like she was saying it was a state of being that we were invited into.
That I had a choice to just choose in.
Maybe I’m butchering the truth of that memory with my lack of articulation… I remember feeling that she was idealistic and overly optimistic—in a christianese way.
I wanted her to be real with me. Like I was being real with her…
I wanted to believe her…..but
“I have told you these things so that my joy might be your joy,” Jesus is recorded as saying in John 15:11. “I have told you these things so that my joy might be in you – and that your joy may be complete/that your joy may be full.”
What are the “things” he mentioned to help us have His joy, to help our joy be complete?
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.
—remain in my love.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love
—just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
I think we want joy to mean happiness—like a stress-free happiness. But maybe joy is less about a feeling, and more about a confidence.
Hebrews 12:2 says “for the joy set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame.” Was it happiness set before Him—or was it the confidence of what would come from His sacrifice?
I guess it could be the happiness to come that helped him hold on and die for us, but part of me wants to believe that joy is a word to encapsulate an unearthly fact. Like the peace that he gives that passes all understanding, it is an indefinable quality of life we taste at times because of our eternal new life in Christ. It is a characteristic sort of like what my friend a few years back was trying to tell me below the giant pine trees of Yellowstone.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has passed, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
What if joy isn’t something we can cultivate—but it is the reality of our new life in Christ? As we trust him, as we love like him—letting him love others through us—its qualities begin to invade our conscious minds
start to stain our heart with a new tune.
What if joy is a byproduct and my friend was right? What if it’s a perspective and not a feeling? We want joy to be an overwhelming great happiness, but happiness can be interrupted, mugged, and mutilated by life’s circumstances. It can be stolen, killed, and destroyed.
Is the eternal stuff of God so easily torn from reality? …Or rather are the eternal things of God so strong that they tear the fabric of our reality and overcome the temporary effects of our material beings? Do God-qualities make the things of this earth ineffectual…and take away their power to incapacitate us?
What if joy is a spiritual emotional quality—something that our physical senses are numb to without Christ—and that with Christ we can begin to become aware of overtime? Something that can set us free from the inducements that would drive us in this world and steal the peace he gives us.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
I don’t have the answers to joy
but I have become convinced that God’s way is not like ours, and that his gifts are good and don’t make sense to our broken world.
And in the midst of all that is broken, God desires that his joy be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Will you open your hands? Will you wait with me for his joy?
“Wait on the Lord, be strong and take heart
and wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).