The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 1: The Search for Joy [3 of 3]
One Easter Saturday morning, Mary and I attended a briefing with other church nursery workers on the procedures for checking in, tending to, and checking out the dozens of children expected to arrive the next morning as their parents participated in Easter services. Before the orientation started, Catherine Talbot, a fellow New River member and a woman who lives joyfully despite circumstances, hustled by and took a seat. You gotta love her: she glows with joy and doesn’t even know it! Mary and I got up, ran over to her, and hugged her. “You’re one of the people I want to interview for my joy book,” I told her.
“Me?!” she gasped. “Do you really see it?”
“Lady,” Mary said, “You wear it!”
I then asked her what she thought joy was. “It’s a knowing,” she said. “Knowing God is in control.” Not an emotion, a knowing. Another piece of the puzzle clicked into place.
“Joy is a place where I exist,” described Heath Jackson, former business owner and ordained Apple Store Genius. “Whether you choose to live there or not.” Not an emotion, a place. Click!
His wife, Mary, agreed. “Happiness is a response to circumstance, and joy is there despite circumstance. We were created for God’s pleasure which brings Him joy, so it’s rooted in pleasing God, in God’s pleasure.”
Heath nodded: “Joy is a place where God has called us to be when we’re walking in His presence. I call it the cycle of joy: His greatest pleasure is seeing us getting His glory, and our greatest pleasure is when we’re in His presence obeying Him and hearing Him and walking in His grace. Jesus did nothing except through the Father. That’s the only reason we humans don’t walk as close to God as Jesus did. Joy is knowing you’re walking in His will.” Not an emotion . . . a knowing. Like Catherine Talbot said.
During my interview with Kathryn Marie, she suggested I go right to the source and interview my daughter Hannah, who was five at the time. After all, Jesus Himself declared “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). More than once Hannah had said things which convinced me that, like a cat, she still has one foot in heaven and the other planted on earth. So one day after finishing lunch with her, I looked her in the eye and asked “What’s joy?”
She hesitated, then answered quietly: “I don’t know. Nice, happy?” Sounds like my answer, I thought.
“Why don’t you ask your guardian angel?” I suggested.
“Okay,” she beamed. She held up her blue plastic Fisher Price telephone. “I’ll ask Faith. She knows a lot about joy.” She proceeded to punch the fake plastic buttons on the fake plastic phone. “Do you know what her number is, Daddy?” I shook my head. “It’s 1-5-4-2.” She then put the phone to her ear and walked into the living room. “Hello? Faith?” She chit-chatted with her angel for a moment, then asked her “What’s joy?” Silence. “Happiness. Okay, thanks.” She hung up and walked back into the dining room where I still sat, watching. “Joy is happiness, Dad,” she said.
Joy is happiness, yet so much more. Joy is a state of mind, a state of being, a continuity with God; when we are in God’s presence, we are unshakably joy-filled. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, as the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians (see Galatians 5:22). And “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25).
Joy is a choice. Joy is a knowing. Joy is a place. Joy is a command. To the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul, while in prison, wrote “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). To the church in Thessalonica, Paul exhorted “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). And to the Christian church in Rome, Paul charged “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12). Rejoicing and being joyful is God’s will! Joy is not passive; it is fulfilled in the expression. Joy, though a noun, is brought to life, is made active, by expressing it. Rejoice! It’s so much more fulfilling–and fun–than grumbling, complaining, and wallowing around in the muck of selfishness and bad attitude. As believers, Jesus called us to be a light for the world. What better way is there to shine that light than to live every moment, every opportunity, and every sacrifice immersed in joy?
One day I had to run to Target to return a pair of flip-flops Hannah couldn’t wear. After I parked, I rounded the car and opened Hannah’s door. As is our habit, she automatically reached up and grabbed my hand. “Dad,” she said as we walked across the parking lot. “Holding your hand is joy.” I can’t think of a better definition of joy than that, can you?
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes