Possessing strong perfectionistic tendencies, and being educated as an electrical engineer, I look at the world in black-and-white rather than in shades of Technicolor. As such, I can overlook the obvious, overcomplicate the situation, and overthink things. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get out of my own way. Mary doesn’t call me “Hard Way” for nothing. Even though I’m not as literal as Jim Parsons’ character, Sheldon Cooper, in “The Big Bang Theory,” I can be smart-but-dense nonetheless.
So, like a good writer (and good engineer), I looked up the dictionary definition of joy, but came away dissatisfied: is joy really a fuller, more vibrant shade of happiness, or is it something totally different? I realized I didn’t even know how to define happiness, let alone joy. Ugh! I’m a man of many words, but when God ordained this book, He stumped me.
Which was precisely His point.
Kathryn Marie Hanna is a cheerful 62-year-old massage therapist and ordained minister, as petite and exuberant as her little pink house. One evening Mary, Hannah, and I met several of Mary’s friends, including Kathryn, for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth’s vibrant 7th Street district. I sat across from Kathryn, who wears her age as gracefully as her smile, and we chatted while waiting for our orders to arrive. Suddenly Hannah slipped out of the chair sandwiched between Mary and me, ran around the end of the table, and hopped into Kathryn’s lap. Kathryn wrapped her arms around her, pulled her close, and began to sing in a beautiful birdlike voice that reminded me of Snow White. “What’s joy?” I asked Kathryn as Hannah relaxed and her rambunctious energy settled into quiet contentment.
“Joy is an attitude,” she replied, a common answer I’d received from other folks living squarely in palm of Joy’s hand. “I choose to be joyful.”
A couple months later, after a massage, I asked Kathryn the same question. “We can choose,” she reiterated. “The same situation can present itself to two different people and those two different people are going to handle it differently because of their choices. If I choose to get angry over something I have no control over, suddenly it has control over me.” She confessed she does, on occasion, get angry, but she recognizes the anger, wrestles it down, and moves on. “Instead of letting it destroy my whole day or my whole week or whatever, I just get past it,” she declared. “Resolving issues keeps you from dwelling on them. I really think that what we do with our situations determines whether we express joy or not.”
“You know more about joy than you think you do,” my friend, Bill Kelly, affirmed one evening after I’d talked to him about God’s joy-filled assignment. “You exude it.” But as I mentioned, I tend to overlook the obvious: if joy was a snake, I would’ve been bitten by it a long time ago. Hmm. Death by joy . . . .
I have to acknowledge that, as Bill pointed out, I do come across as being a joy-filled guy. People used to call me “Smiley” because I wear a smile as comfortably as a pair of old sandals. I smile at everyone, and if I see you approaching, I’ll shoot you a friendly “Good morning,” or “How are you?” Yes, I am that weirdo. Most of the time I receive a smile back, or a “Fine, how are you?” Rarely do I get the blank stare, the averted eyes, or a frown.
“You have a very joyous countenance,” Kathryn Marie confirmed, her kind eyes twinkling as she spoke. “I think you live joy. I see it in your face, you know: The wrinkles that you have and the wrinkles I have are the same–they’re smiling!”
The problem is in thinking of joy as an emotion; after all, that’s what we’ve been taught. That’s what the dictionary says–joy is defined as intense or great happiness. That’s what the secular world declares it. But it’s not the whole picture. Far from it. The struggle I’ve had with defining joy, getting to the heart of joy, comes down to one simple fact: the world’s definition is different from God’s definition. The world’s idea of happiness is based on things, on attachments, on fleeting moments. Joy transcends all that.
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes