This time of year at Christmas we hear the word joy used a lot. “Joy to the World.” “Joy to you and me.” “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee.” A few years back I lamented to some of my closest friends, my Tahoe Chicks, that I felt like I had lost my joy. Little did I know that my understanding of joy was a bit off kilter, and that started me on a journey of rediscovering something new and exciting that I never understood about joy.
Here’s what Dictionary.com identifies joy as:
1. The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.
2. A source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated.
3. The expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
4. A state of happiness or felicity.
What I gleaned from those definitions is that I really want to start using the word “keen” a lot more, and that I need to figure out why folks don’t use the word felicity more when talking about happiness. But I also think that joy has gotten a bad rap because it is always associated with happiness, and I’m not so sure I agree with that connection anymore. This was intersection I was at when I began my journey of rediscovering joy.
So often our “happiness” is what we gauge our joy on. As if when everything externally is going well, then I am happy and thus I can experience joy. But I know some wonderful folks who struggle in life, have experienced great loss, and whose external circumstances didn’t seem all that merry and bright, and yet they still can say they feel joy. How is that?
When the realities of a perfect storm came together in my life; the throes of menopause, recognizing my need for ADD medication, becoming an empty-nester, some added grief and loss, and a stressful job thrown on top of that…that is when I began to feel that loss of joy. Those were external things, and so I think what I was really was experiencing was a lack of happiness. So many things were changing and learning to deal with loss and grief made my life difficult during that time. I didn’t feel happy, so I assumed I had lost my joy.
But here’s what I’ve learned about joy…
“Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of wellbeing.”
~ Dallas Willard ~
If I profess to be a follower to Jesus, then I know I am loved unconditionally, and nothing can take that away from me. My eternal circumstances are in tact, and since God is less interested in my happiness than He is in helping me become more holy (more Christ-like), then I can be assured that there is joy simply in that. And whether I have cancer, or friends, or a healthy marriage, it won’t taint the joy that is mine from that basic knowledge. Isn’t that a gracious revelation?
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen reiterates this when he wrote, “while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away. Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness.”
To my delight I am learning that I’ve never really lost my joy. I may have experienced a season of unhappiness, and possibly even despair…but I never lost the feeling that all was well because I was loved by my Creator. The good news is that nothing could or will separate me from God. Now THAT is the ultimate feeling of wellbeing. Joy doesn’t mean I will always be happy and smiling. No, I may struggle now and then, but you can bet your bottom dollar (my mom use to use that phrase all the time) that joy can and will be found still in my heart. Once again…God shows up, helping me rediscover a gift that was never lost. That right there is the definition of grace, and a beautiful gift to receive.
So this Christmas may you discover the joy that you have and can’t be robbed of if you trust Christ as your Savior. And if you don’t have that hope, my prayer is that you will take a moment to be present this Christmas in unwrapping the gift. Listen to the Christmas songs. Attend a Christmas Eve service, and hear the story with new ears that talks about a baby being sent into our world to walk this earth, and eventually take the punishment for what we deserve. May the gift of joy be yours this Christmas season, whether or not your circumstances point to happiness. May you be filled with the knowledge that joy and grace can be found whether or not there’s a smile on your face.