I have been going through a few struggles in my life lately. Since we moved, my depression has been worse. I do not have a church to connect to. I have been having struggles within my marriage. Though I like my job, I experience a lot of negativity around me at work. Basically, what I am saying is I have not been experiencing too many highs in my life these days.
While at a retreat this past weekend, I journalled (which apparently is not a word) that I felt like I didn’t even know what joy was anymore. At the same time, joy could have been right in front of me but I have been so focused on the darkness around me that it is hard for me to recognize joy.
Ironically, one of my roommates at the retreat was Joy.
While thinking about joy (the emotion, not my roommate), I did what I usually do and looked at it from an intellectual perspective. What is the definition of joy?
According to Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, joy is defined as:
- The emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.
- The expression or exhibition of such emotion.
- A state of happiness or felicity (not the TV show).
- A source of cause or delight.
Other definitions they listed include:
- A feeling of great happiness.
- A source or cause of great happiness; something or someone that gives joy to someone.
- Success in doing, finding or getting something
This got me thinking. Is happiness the same as joy? Or is joy something more than happiness?
As I read these definitions again, I start to think that there are big aspects of my life that are not where I would like them to be so I see that as not being joyful. Yes, I like my job but I do not like my career (lack of success or good fortune). And of course we put such emphasis on our careers as it takes up so much of our time. I am leading at Celebrate Recovery, but since I am not serving at a church I am not feeling much joy (a lack of cause or source of great happiness).
There are brief moments in my life recently where I have been happy for a day or two, for a moment, the odd occasion where something funny happens and I laugh or smile. But does this equal joyfulness?
Again, the intellectual side of my brain started thinking: what does the Bible say about joy? So, I pulled out the Blue Letter Bible app on my phone and searched the word JOY. In the NIV, the word joy appears 210 times. If you look up the word joyful, it appears an additional 18 times.
I did a quick perusal of the 210 verses in which JOY appears. Almost every single one of them talks about joy during happy times, celebrations, when things were going well. But what does the Bible say about joy when things are not going so well?
The best example is our friend Job. Deep down, we all want to be like Job. Even when he is being attacked on every side, his wife disagrees with him, his friends say to turn his back on God, Job is the ever-faithful servant of God. He never doubted God for a moment. Not once. Not ever.
Chapter 6 in the Book of Job, he is talking to Eliphaz. Let’s look at verses 8-13.
8 “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for,
9 that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
10 Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain— that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. 11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient?
12 Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze?
13 Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?
This guy is lamenting over everything that has been taken from him. It almost sounds like he is suicidal at this point, “to let loose His hand and cut off my life!” He is not eating anything at this point (see verse 7). He is talking about not having any strength, no purpose, no power to help himself, nothing! But the one consolation he has is that he has never denied God, never doubted him. This is his one source of relief, one thing to hold on to as he suffers. This is his one source of joy.
So where does that leave me? I spoke with my friends about how I was feeling about this whole joy situation (again, not my roommate. She is a lovely person.) They asked me questions like “What do you mean joy?” “Do you experience happiness?” “Are you looking for something deeper, like a joyfulness in your soul?”
My answers were: “I am not sure.” “Yes, I have a few happy moments.” “Maybe, I am not really sure.”
Their advice to me was this. Be happy in the moment. Find joy in the little things.
Job was so sure of his faith and the love of God that he absolutely, unequivocally knew that God was not to blame for his circumstances. He was not going to turn his back on God, the same way that God does not turn His our back on us. I think the challenge many of us have is we doubt God. We do not necessarily doubt his existence but we may doubt His love for us. We doubt ourselves and question our worthiness of His love. We are not so sure-footed as Job. We look at our life and wonder how we got to where we are. We don’t always see God at work in our lives.
I personally see God at work in the big areas of my life but not so much in the little things. I still think I can do it on my own. Apparently, I still need to take my own advice (see post “My Dog and the tree”). But what I am going to do going forward is to appreciate the small things in my life. I will think about how my heart flutters at the thought of seeing my daughter who lives in Ottawa. How calming it is to feel the sun on my face, even when it is cold outside. I will focus on the excitement I have over going back to school and learning more stuff for a potential new career. How proud I am that I am actually growing plants (I have a notoriously black thumb).
First let’s focus on being happy in the small moments. Once we have practiced that, then we can focus on the deep soul-enriching joyfulness that Job describes. One step at a time.