The Case for Joy

Timely Words

Towards the end of 2019 and into January of 2020, I was trying to discern a word or phrase that would help guide the year ahead. Word of the Year was a new category for me, but I spent time in prayer and reflection listening for the word. Eventually, two words emerged: light and joy. I remember thinking at the time that “light and joy” as my words of the year seemed too easy or that I should have a more challenging focal point.

I wrote the words on a sticky note and pasted it on my bathroom mirror. It did not take too long to realize where the words were guiding me. In family life, and surely extending into other areas of my life, I am naturally disposed towards being serious – making sure things are done properly and everything is ordered as it should be. Joy is something that comes at the end if there is time.

When reflecting on my words in this context, I felt like God was calling me to bring more joy into daily life with my wife and kids. I felt like I was given permission to have fun first sometimes rather than jumping straight into whatever needed to be cleaned up or get done.

Then March of 2020 came around and the world turned upside down. After a few months of fear and being apart from family and friends, I recall looking at my sticky note one morning. I understood that “light and joy” were not the softball words of the year that I had initially scoffed at. They were given to me as a weapon to enter into one of the biggest challenges of my life.

It might seem funny to think of joy as a weapon, but in difficult times, it is one of the gifts we are given to help get us through and see the promise that lies beyond any difficult moment.

Lost in the Midst

The idea of seeking joy can seem like a luxury when there is so much going on in our lives. From the generally busyness and demands of society to the painful and challenging circumstances we are facing, it is hard to find time for the pursuit of joy.

Add to this the various distractions we face and the available space becomes even more limited. Traffic, the weather, the news, and social media feeds are but a few of the leeches that steal our time, energy, and attention.

When I look at how my day is structured, there are things I make time for. On a good day, I make time for prayer, family, work appointments, and ideally some exercise. One thing I have never put in my calendar or on a to-do list is “find joy”.

This is not because I do not want to experience it. I do. But I have realized that whether it is the nature of life in a noisy and broken world or spiritual forces working against us, joy does not flow as easily as I might like.

I am tempted to think that it is indulgent to think that there should be more. How can we expect or desire joy amidst so much pain and suffering in the world? Open a news website and you will find violence, destruction, and scandal. There is not much room left for the uplifting.

But what if we thought of joy less as a luxury and more of a remedy for the ills we face on a day to day basis? What if it is joy that can rescue us?

Joy in the Dailies

Over the last week, I have again felt the call to experience more joy in my life. Not necessarily to go and find it, but to just open my eyes to what is happening around me and be grateful for the sources of joy that are already there.

I was with my son and a few of his friends recently and I noticed him do something thoughtful for one of his classmates. He didn’t know anyone was watching him, but in that moment, I looked at him and thought, “that is my son, and he is good.” I felt such a delight in seeing him do well in the small things. He is 8 and it is very easy to get bogged down in the struggle to get him to shower after soccer or the frustration that comes when he bugs his sisters. It is easy to let those moments of expiring patience take up all the space.

But when I am open to seeking joy in my life, I often find the sources of it are already all around me.

Rather than being indulgent, the act of seeking greater joy is one of defiance and a proactive push back against the distractions, the frustrations of day-to-day life, and the forces that would keep us from having more.

Joy is not a nice-to-have. It is necessary. The joys we experience in our lives point to something greater. But we do not need to wait to experience God’s abundance. He wants us to have lives full of joy. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. “(John 10:10).

Joy is not the absence of toil or struggle. It is the grace to endure the battles of life with hope that something greater will ultimately triumph. Christian joy is a paradox. When we see someone suffering but remaining joyful, it does not seem to make sense. This joy comes from knowing that the greatest battle has already been won. Because Jesus wins on our behalf, we get to participate in the win, despite our shortcomings and the hardships we face in this life.

Expectations

What if we woke up each morning with an expectation of more joy and ended the day recounting the ways we encountered it? I am certain we would find our experiences of joy would increase significantly if we took this posture.

The sources of joy are all around us. Relationships with family, time with friends, our favourite music, and the natural beauty of the environment around us are things we encounter every day. When we look for it, joy will emerge.

When the culture promotes anger, fear, and anxiety over the future, joy is the weapon by which we can fight back. It can bring peace and heal us.

Armed with joy, we can live in hope, knowing that no matter what we are facing today, good will ultimately prevail.

– Sean

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