Monday, December 14, 2015

Looking for Joy in All the Right Places

At church yesterday, we lit the Advent candle of joy. Joy is my middle name. Literally, not figuratively . . . though I would gladly trade the literal for the figurative.

Joy seems so elusive to people. Happiness is not, although we think it is. Happiness is temporary and surface-level. I feel happy when I get to sleep in. I feel happy when the dog greets me enthusiastically at the door. I feel happy when my favorite Christmas song comes on the radio. I feel happy when I eat dark-chocolate-covered blueberries.

Joy is different. Joy is deeper. Joy is a condition of the heart, not a reaction to my circumstances. I've known people who profess to be joyful, Christians who claim to have "the joy of Christ" (or some churchy thing like that), whose daily attitudes show them up for liars. You can't have joy and grumble every time I see you about how hard your life is and how uncooperative your kids are and how inadequate your bank account is and how decrepit your body has become . . .

It occurred to me this past week (for some unknown reason) that an awful lot of us believe that our joy -- or at least our happiness, but probably our joy, as well -- is dependent on being able to do the things we want to do. Kids assume they'll be happy when they're adults and can do all the things they can't do when they're young. Adults assume they'll be happy when they're retired and can spend their days not working, but doing what they want. Poor people assume they'd be happy if they had enough money to not have to work so hard at a job they don't like. Rich people assume they'd be happy if they didn't have obligations to people to do things they don't enjoy doing.

I know that I would give my right arm for a day with no obligations of any kind, present or future, when I could spend my time on whatever appeals to me at that moment and not feel guilty doing so.

But I have enough sense to know that, although that might make me happy for the day, it would not make me joyful. Joy is different. Joy is deeper. Joy is a condition of the heart. Joy has nothing to do with doing what I want to do instead of what I have to do.

Joy, it seems, has more to do with doing the things I'm truly supposed to be doing as opposed to the things I think I should be doing or the things I think will make me happy. Doing those good works that "God prepared in advance" for me to do.

If God prepared some low-key, menial work for me to do, I will never find joy doing the grand and glorious work I prefer that gets me lots of attention and praise from the people who see me.

If God prepared some kids for me to nurture and raise, I will never find joy putting them in daycare every day and running off to a job, even if I love what I do, even if I am "changing lives" in my fabulous profession, even if I think being a stay-at-home mom will drive me crazy.

Joy comes from being exactly where God wants you, because God made you and knows how He made you and what you were made for. Because the joy comes not from what we're doing, but from the condition of our heart when we are so in love with God and so completely trusting of His love for us that we are willing to go to the lions if that's what He calls us to. When that relationship with God is completely right (which is a daily effort while we're here on earth, I think), our heart is right, and the joy comes.

This is not a revelation to most believers. We know this. The revelation comes in how poorly we are living what we profess to believe. If we believe that our joy is in our relationship to God, why do we continue to seek it in the praise of others? In the love of our family? In success at our careers? In dark-chocolate-covered blueberries? Why do we give little more than obligatory lip service to the one thing we were created for and then wonder and complain about the fact that we have no genuine joy in our lives?

Seek joy this week, friends -- in the only place it can ever be found.

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