Perhaps like you, my personality has often been marked by joy.
When I was in high school – thick in the trenches of Evangelical subculture, thanks to the influence of youth groups and Young Life alike – I believed the Christian life marked by joy. If God really did send his only son to die on the cross for me so I could hang out in heaven forever, then why wouldn’t every part of my joy-filled life be defined by cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, as Julie Andrews once taught me to sing?
But if I’m honest with you (and with myself), this so-called joy probably looked like more like one too many helpings of chipper happiness co-mingling alongside a real aversion to pain.
Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me four decades to realize that pain and joy live side by side – that the two intermingle together on the daily, because this, after all, is the profundity of our one messy, beautiful life.
For me, this joy is still alive and well within me (and if you were to ask my husband, I’m sure he’d also tell you that said “extra helping of chipper happiness” makes its way into our marriage on a rather regular basis). But sometimes, this joy dissipates when the mass shooting count post-Sandy Hook is at 2,414 persons, when children are dying at the border, when hate is given permission to yell and chant and further unify over racial dominance.
I doubt I’m alone in sometimes feeling crushed by the injustices of the world around me – which is why I oftentimes now need the reminder to turn toward joy, to remember joy, to celebrate and lean into and stare with wonder-filled eyes at joy.
In the recent release, Almost Holy Mama, Courtney Ellis “chronicles her year-long experiment connecting ancient spiritual practices – listening prayer, fasting, studying Scripture, and more – to the routine, mundane tasks of parenting.” When, near the end of the experiment, she gets to the month marked by celebration, like me, it’s like she has to convince herself of the God of joy:
Yet God is not simply a God of rules and regulations, of to-do lists to complete and spiritual marathons to run. God is also the God of joy. Jesus turned water into wine – good wine – after all, not because doing so upheld ancient religious law, but because eating and drinking and being merry was part and parcel of celebrating a wedding (208).
How, then, are you seeing the God of joy in your life today?
Perhaps we start with the “write down,” and we write down our blessings, as Saint Maya reminds us to do. I think about those times, just in the last couple of days, when joy has bubbled up from the inside out and I’ve laughed so hard I’ve started to cry.
Take, for instance, this conversation in the front yard when one of my sons asked me about getting a haircut.
“I thought you wanted to grow out your hair, buddy,” I said in reply.
“Well, I do want long hair, just not on my head.”
“So, you want to grow out your …leg hair?”
“Yeah!” He said brightly, because who wouldn’t want a buzzed cut and nine-inch leg hair?
Oh, the joy that came over me in that moment – the joy that gently nudges me to celebrate and not take too seriously this one wild and crazy life. Because here’s the truth: it’s like a single conversation like this one sends a flare across the sky on into my heart.
I am invited into joy.
You are invited into joy.
For our God is a God of joy, and we are graciously, generously, excitedly beckoned back into joy, over and over again – and when we say yes to the joy that dances and mingles alongside the hard things of life too, we also say yes to a new, joyous kind of commitment.
We commit to seeing joy and sensing joy and believing in the goodness of joy. We camp out in the land of joy, and when this happens, well, I think we begin to see God all over again, maybe for the very first time.
So, you in?
Who wants to camp out in the land of joy with me? Let’s go! PS: If you’re a parent, you HAVE to check out Courtney Ellis’ book, Almost Holy Mama. It’s GOLD.
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