A little over a month ago, I wrote a post entitled Joy (linked here). The basic premise was that it’s too bad that so many adults have hijacked the sports experience of our children, to the point that so many kids don’t really want to play anymore. I stand by that post entirely, however today’s post, also on the idea of joy, is going in a bit of a different direction.
While I certainly don’t live my life anywhere near perfectly, as a rule I seek to do what God wants me to do. I take the Bible seriously, and believe it to be God’s inspired Word to us. So in Philippians chapter 4 when Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always”, I am thoroughly convinced that I ought to do just that. I ought to rejoice in the Lord always. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I’ve had a faulty, or at least an incomplete view of joy. When I think of joy, I picture happiness and celebration. I am beginning to realize that’s not really it. I’ve listened to a few talks over the years in which people have tried to help me understand a difference between joy and happiness, but for some reason, it hadn’t really gotten through my head. Maybe it’s the fact that my life has typically been pretty comfortable, that I’ve never gone without in any meaningful way, that I’ve always equated joy with happiness and comfort. So when I read “Rejoice in the Lord always”, that has always made perfect sense if I was happy and comfortable.
In sports, as long as I’m content with my performance or our team’s place in the standings, I’ve been perfectly capable of rejoicing, as I’ve understood joy in the past. In life, as long as my relationships are solid, my bank account is healthy and my body feels good, I’ve similarly had no problem with rejoicing. And I suppose the good news is that more often than not, those things have lined up, I’ve been reasonably happy and I’ve believed that I was rejoicing in the Lord. But what about when things go wrong, at least wrong from my perspective? The command is to rejoice always. Not sometimes. Not simply when I’m happy and comfortable. For too long I considered the idea of rejoicing in the Lord when things are tough as another way of saying “don’t worry, be happy”. But that isn’t it. Joy runs much deeper. Joy doesn’t say, “don’t worry, be happy”, it says, “I know you are sad and hurting. It’s OK to hurt right now. Just remember there is something bigger”.
I’m figuring out that real joy is experienced at an entirely different level, independent of life circumstances of any kind. Real joy can be felt in the midst of shocking sadness or incredible discomfort. From an athletic/sports standpoint, real joy is what we experience when we truly love the game. I’m happy if we win and sad if we lose, but I experience joy regardless. Happy and sad are fleeting, they are temporary. They aren’t bad and they certainly aren’t artificial. Happy and sad are very real. They simply aren’t the same as joy.
I want to continue to mature in my understanding of joy and help others do the same. What a great gift we can offer to those we lead and serve as we begin to grasp and share authentic joy.