The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 1: The Search for Joy [1 of 3]
All of us are coming to Joy. Life, in confronting us with our fears, will see to that. The more vigorously we take on life and gather experiences, the more quickly we learn the lesson.
–Todd Evan Pressman, PhD,
Radical Joy, page 18
There is no wealth better than health of body, and no gladness above joy of heart.
–Sirach 30:16 (NRSV)
When I first set out to write this book, I had no definite idea what joy was. I mean, I sorta kinda had an inkling, like the first time I rode a thermal up to cloud base in a Schweizer 1-26 sailplane and scratched the misty gray belly of that fat cumulous as it hugged my glider and wrapped itself around my spirit. The intense thrill, the pounding heart, the shout of thanks to God–in that moment a window flew open and joy flew in on a favorable wind. It was a little taste, a little crumb, that, once experienced, remained on the tongue of my soul ever since.
Or when I’d walk into a bookstore and inhale the comforting smell of books, the scent of ink and glue and paper and hope, the aroma of dreams realized and purpose secured. The same feeling which rose in my heart when that fat gray cloud enveloped my sailplane would again erupt from deep in my gut and choke me up. The feeling was so heady, so enticing I’d tell people I could drop my engineering job and work in a bookstore just to be close to the books and the people who read them. Another nugget, another crumb.
Or the moment my baby entered the world, my wife, Mary, under the blue sheets, her round belly painted amber with Betadine, her scared eyes searching mine as the doctor made the incision to pull out our stubbornly-breached child. “You can look now,” he called to me as the moment arrived. I stood up and peered over the cloth barrier just as the doctor grabbed hold of our baby’s feet and tugged. Before I knew it he cradled that long, chubby, surprisingly clean baby in gloved hands. “Okay, Dad, tell everyone what it is.”
I was overwhelmed. Mary and I had made the decision months earlier to wait until the baby was born to find out what the sex was. Somehow along the way the nurse midwives began using “he” and “his” during our weekly checkups, so we were convinced they’d let the baby out of the bassinet. We just knew it was a “he.” So as Mary’s tear-filled blue eyes grew wider over my wordlessness, and as I looked down at this purple and pink life covered with a bit of cheesy yellow vernix, I had no idea what the swollen thing was between its plump legs. “You do know what it is, don’t you?” the doctor implored. And in that moment of emotional overload, joy slid in and coaxed my voice into action as I realized God had playfully answered my prayers. “It’s a . . . girl!” I cried. I turned to Mary. “It’s Hannah!” Thus God delivered Hannah Elizabeth Hughes into the world, a little brown-eyed mirror reflecting my looks and Mary’s attitude, a reminder of God’s grace, love, and sense of humor, joy wrapped in an eight pound three ounce package of pure dependence.
But like I mentioned earlier, joy does not come naturally to me, so I have to be willing to accept it supernaturally. I experience it in little nuggets: a shooting star on a morning walk, my wife’s touch, my daughter’s belly laughs. I have a tendency to wallow around in the muck of my woes, to drag through the quicksand of depression, to slump through the mire of sadness, to loll in bouts of low energy. I’m as inflexible as a piece of rebar, and I don’t respond well to changes in plans. Instead of savoring each moment God gives me, I analyze my present reality against a backdrop of the past and the what-ifs of the future; I have a hard time living God’s commands in Isaiah 43:18-19,
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you
not perceive it?”
or Jesus’ imperative delivered during the Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
–Matthew 6:34 (NIV)
I can slip in and out of self-pity as quickly as my daughter can slip in and out of her entire wardrobe of dress-up clothes. But maybe my ignorance of joy’s reality has skewed my experience of it. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. Maybe, just maybe, I do live joyfully; I just don’t fully realize it. I’d heard the word “joy” all my life, but when it came right down to it, I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was, couldn’t describe it concisely, couldn’t wrap it up into a comprehensible analogy. I know what depression is. I know what sadness is. I know what frustration is. I know what boredom is. But I don’t know what joy really is. Is joy different from happiness? Is it an emotion? A feeling? A state of being? Is joy something to strive for, or is it something innate, something we’re born with? Or does it fully manifest only after being born again? Can everyone experience joy, or only those with a well-developed spiritual foundation? Or no foundation at all? Can only children experience and demonstrate consistent joy, like my memories of childhood testify to, or can adults loaded down with baggage and histories and conformity and material desires and “stuff” experience it too?
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes