The Meaning of Joy
I cannot tell you off the top of my head what the dictionary definition of the word joy is, and I won’t be looking it up. Instead, I offer up my own definition, one that I cobbled together a few years ago in the midst of a very dark time:
Joy is the ability to look past the darkness and into the Light. Joy searches beyond the moment and looks for Eternity. Joy is the action of shifting our eyes away from the situation and gazing into the face of Christ.
I’m sure that this isn’t precise and it’s probably not 100% theologically accurate, either. But it makes sense to me. The writer of Hebrews seems to have the same stance:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – 12:1-2, emphasis mine
The joy wasn’t found in the agony of the Cross. The joy was beyond the Cross, in the results found in the aftermath. Jesus looked beyond the excruciating pain of the moment and down the halls of forever, into the face of each person who would choose Him because He chose them. We are His joy.
Joy is anticipation. It is the willingness to endure suffering because of the promise of something greater, something better. It looks for the ways God blesses each day, even the smallest.
Joy is Strength
As the Lord works in my life, pruning and shaping so that I might become fruitful and healthy, there is a good deal of pain. Physical pain found in illness. Emotional pain found in the consequences and implications of that illness. Mental pain in grappling with new and changing information.
But I have joy.
There hasn’t been a day in the last month when I haven’t found something to smile about, even if it’s a tiny thing like watching the breeze ripple through the branches of the tree in my front yard. There are reminders all around me of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Every time I want to give up, He plops an “I love you” right into my lap. A word from a friend. A Bible verse or twelve. The sound of the birds chirping in the early morning. The softness of doggy fur. MercyMe’s new album.
Every time I fear being swallowed by the darkness, His light pierces and clears the cloudiness.
Joy: A Gift and a Choice
I am a pessimist. Straight up, glass cracked and empty. Given the opportunity, I will find the negative. When this whole detoxing thing started, when I was faced with a mountain of medical issues, I knew, without doubt, that I was going to have to force myself to take the opposite tack. Trade in the pessimism for optimism. Not denial, mind you. A correct perspective, rather.
This holy gift of joy isn’t something that God will force me to take, much like anything else He offers. I have to unwrap it. He will take 99.9% of the steps, but requires me to move that final millimeter. He won’t make me search for the better in the beyond. I have to turn my mind to Him and ask for the eyes to do the searching.
Ultimately, joy is all about perspective.
There is no denying pain. We’re idiotic when we do that. To go through the pain with the knowledge that God is there and He is going to make it all good? To look for all the ways in which He smooths the winding, uphill, cliff-hugging path? That’s strength. Weakness gives up. Strength keeps going.
Joy fuels the strength that pushes us one more step. One more day.