This past week, my church’s Wednesday night Bible study just began Philippians. Well, we didn’t really get much into the book itself; we read the intro from someone’s Bible, which said that the book was all about JOY, which is only to be found in Christ, as opposed to HAPPINESS, which is earthly.
This is something I’ve heard and read and come across is various ways over the years, as I’m sure you all have too. It’s an understanding that seems fine, right? We know that true joy comes from the Lord. We know that it’s not the same as happiness.
But my husband asked a question that led us into what I found to be a fabulous conversation: Does that meant that you can’t experience joy unless you’re a Christian?
As we talked through it, the first step was in identifying times that we would classify as experiencing joy rather than happiness. The things that bring us joy. And the examples–relationships, family, security–all seemed to have something in common in my mind. They’re all things that humanity as a whole can experience, yes. But they’re all things given by God, and which God uses as examples of what His love is like.
That, however, wasn’t an epiphany big enough to make me want to talk about it. 😉 What made me decide to write more about it was this thought:
Happiness is when we’re being acted upon in a favorable way.
Joy is when we act out our love.
I’ve long thought happiness was best defined as circumstantial. This gorgeous spring weather we’ve been having makes me happy. Dinner with friends makes me happy. Seeing a good sales report makes me happy.
See those keywords? Things make us happy. It’s a result of the outside world acting in a specific way, creating circumstances that we find pleasant, that creates in us a good feeling or emotion. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with this! Happiness is something we should certainly appreciate when it comes our way!
But happiness is a feeling
, and more, it’s a feeling that depends on the world around us. So when the circumstances change…well, our happiness does too. We don’t all feel happy every single day, do we? When we’re on the phone with customer support for hours, when we’re cleaning up messes from pets or kids or a storm, when we’re sick or suffering from depression or anxiety, when we’re looking at bills and knowing the account balance isn’t big enough–well, we certainly don’t feel happy
When we read or hear about joy, though, we’re told that it’s something more, something beyond happiness, something that we ought to be feeling even when we’re not happy.
Ever hear that and just want to huff out a breath and demand, “HOW?!”
For starters, I don’t think we’re classifying it right when we say we ought to feel joy. Feeling isn’t the primary aspect of it. We ought, perhaps, to know joy. We ought to have joy. But I think most of all, we ought to be joy, act joyous, and spread joy.
Because do you know what every single joyous thing has in common? They involve us doing, acting, being rather than being acted upon. Instead of circumstances, joy is reliant on choices.
We choose to love our families, even when the kids are disobedient, when we’re in a rough patch with our spouse, when our parents don’t understand us, when our loved ones are ill and dying. We CHOOSE. And we ACT.
When circumstances are all against us and we choose to sing a praise song to God, that is joy.
When the plates are empty and we thank God for them as an opportunity for Him to show up and provide, that is joy.
When what we’ve lost outweighs what we have, but we turn our faces upward and say, “It’s all yours, Lord, I know you’re holding us in your hand,” that is joy.
When the baby keeps us up all night, and in the face of exhaustion, we sing another lullaby and cuddle them close, that is joy.
When you give even though you don’t know if it’ll be used wisely, simply to show someone you care, that is joy.
When you reach out, even though you’d rather curl up in a ball and shut out the world, that is joy.
Joy doesn’t always feel good. But it is good. It’s acting out love and faith, clinging with both hands to the promises, despite all the shadows and trials and struggles and pain.
Happiness might be something we pursue, working hard to line up those circumstances as best we can. But joy is something we can choose moment by moment. And when we’re so tired, weak, and overwhelmed that we don’t know how to grasp it anymore, that’s when we can turn to Him and say, “Be my joy, Lord. I don’t have any left of my own.”
Can you know joy apart from the Lord? Some, yes. I think you can–like all of His gifts to humanity, it’s available, along with Truth and Wisdom and Knowledge. Just as the world displays the knowledge of Him if you care to look for it, so does it offer the opportunity for joy. But it’s harder to grasp without Him as our foundation. It’s harder to hold to. But then, it’s hard when we do know Him too.
The best things always are.