In search of joy

I've never quite understood the difference between joy and happiness. Oh, I know the definitions. Joy is a part of the fruit of the Spirit, Joy is commanded in Scripture as something we should choose to be. Happiness, on the other hand, is more dependent on circumstances. Jesus often said, "Happy are you when..." (Some translators use "blessed" in place of "happy." But in the Beatitudes and other places the blessedness or happiness seems connected to a condition. "Happy are you when men revile you." "Happy are you who mourn." And so on. But joy is used in cases like, "Be joyful always." "Ask that your joy may be full." "Rejoice in the Lord."

All of my life I have focused more on happiness than joy. I surrounded myself with the things that brought me happiness, that made me laugh or smile. I enjoyed every moment with my husband and kids, even the trying times, just because I knew those times were not permanent, and I didn't want to miss a moment! It was easy to be "happy" when you felt blessed with the circumstances you wanted and enjoyed.

I also had an issue with wanting to control my world. (Can anyone relate?) I will admit to something rather ridiculous if you promise not to laugh! But I even had this deal I made with God that Jesus would return before my kids grew up and left home. Then my circumstances would remain as I longed for them to be, and I wouldn't have to go through the empty nest or watch my parents grow old and die. If I'd had a time machine, I would have made time stand still. Of course, God probably chuckled at my bargain, while He gently, slowly prepared me for change. Even changes I didn't want, but God knew I needed to experience.

It amazes me now to look back at pictures of my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents (whom I never knew) and to see how young they were once! I remember those days in my own life. When I first met Randy's parents, they were already in their 60s, and I thought of them as so old! LOL! My parents were ten years younger, so they seemed (obviously) younger. I couldn't imagine myself ever being that old! And now I'm the age my parents were when I got married.

I took a walk to the park yesterday afternoon, contemplating this joy issue and missing my kids who all happened to be too far away on Easter, when I met a young woman with her little boy. He waved at me and smiled. I asked how old he was, and his mom said, "18 months." Oh my! I should have had ten kids! :) He was adorable, and just what I needed at that moment to make me smile.

So that little boy added to my happiness. But I'm still trying to figure out that illusive joy that bubbles up from within us, that feeling that is also part of the Spirit's grace and fruit in our life, that command that is content and joyful in all circumstances. Where do you find your joy? Have you connected it to your circumstances, to happiness? Or have you discovered the secret of clinging to the joy of Jesus?

I know joy is in Jesus. Verses came to my mind today - Hebrews 12, "(Jesus) who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." We watched the conclusion of the Bible TV series last night and watching what He endured for me, just so He could have me with Him forever, made me cry. He didn't like his circumstances. And I can bet Jesus wasn't one bit happy with the agony of the cross. His Spirit cried out to His Father, "Why have you forsaken me?" At that point, He felt utterly abandoned. But He did it for the joy set before Him.

Joy might not always be attainable every moment on this earth. But as we keep our eyes on the coming joy, we can learn to be content and practice obedience to the command to be joyful here and now.

I did a search for the word joy on Bible Gateway and came upon this interesting passage in Ezra 3:11b-13

"And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away."

Interesting that the older people, those who remembered what used to be wept, while many others (probably much younger, by my guess) shouted for joy. The noise was so loud, they couldn't tell who was shouting for joy and who was weeping in regret. Or maybe the weeping was for joy too. Seems to me it was a combination of both. Joy that the old was being restored, but sadness that it needed restoring at all, that their sins had led to its destruction.

God taught His people to celebrate His festivals with joy, with family and friends. And maybe that's part of the problem in our American culture - we are so isolated. Families live oceans apart or at least too many miles to come together often. Or they are broken by past sins and unforgiving spirits. Whatever the issue, I think Christians could use a lot more joy deep down in our hearts.

Maybe you've got it figured out, but I'm still struggling with a nearly empty glass that needs filling. So I will sing old-fashioned songs like "The Joy of the Lord is my strength," or keep praise music playing in the background, and I will seek joy in Jesus, who endured far more than I ever will. And I will look ahead to the joy set before me, to that time when circumstances won't affect my joy or my happiness.

Rejoice in the Lord, always.

Wise words.