Thursday, June 17, 2021

Joy, Joy

We've been talking about emotions all week and how we limit our human experience when we confine our feelings to such a limited vocabulary as fear, anger, sadness, and happiness. It's unfortunate, I think, that we've done this; we were meant to live more dynamic lives than this vocabulary affords us. I hope that what we've looked at in the past four days has allowed you to start thinking more deeply about what you're actually feeling so that you're invited to engage with your life to its fullest.

That brings us today to something called 'joy,' which will be a great way to start a weekend. 

We think that joy is an emotion, probably a lot like happiness but perhaps to the extreme. Joy is festive and celebratory and boisterous, we think. It is happiness 2.0. When we want to sound particularly religious or holy, we might say that something brings us 'great joy' when it really satisfies our soul or strokes our ego or simply makes us 'happy' (ugh). And when we read in the Scriptures that God gives us 'joy unspeakable' that won't go away, well, we're prone to think that this means that God makes us 'happy' all the time. That He's supposed to make us 'happy' all the time. That we, as Christians, are supposed to be 'happy' all the time. Isn't that joy?

No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. 

The thing about joy is that joy is not an emotion, and we can't tie it to emotions. Joy is a temperament; it's a characteristic of who we are. 

The language that we use about joy tells us this plainly. We don't 'feel' joy; we 'have' joy. And if we try to say that we feel it, we know that something seems wrong about that. We know that the minute that we try to 'feel' joy, we realize it is something so much more substantial than the other emotions that we are prone to 'feel.' 

And we know that our emotions are often tied to our experience, that they come from an internal or external orientation that recognizes the circumstances we are traveling through and seeks to embrace them in whatever way we can. But joy isn't like this, either. Joy isn't circumstantial. It's not a response that we have to the life that we're living; it's an orientation toward our life. 

When we think about biblical joy, we get the image of a deer leaping through a meadow. That's not something the deer 'feels;' that's who the deer is. And joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and not a single one of the other fruits is something that we 'feel;' they all represent who we are (or who we're supposed to be). 

This is why we hear so many talk about having joy despite their circumstances. It's why we hear about how we're supposed to be joyous, even in trial. Because joy is not an emotion; it's not something we feel. It's a temperament. It's our orientation toward the world and toward our life. It's fundamentally part of who we are. We are a people meant to have a spirit of joy that sends us leaping through our fields, be they on mountains or in valleys. 

That's why we can't cheapen joy and make it just like something so banal as 'happiness' (ugh). We can't make it something we feel when it's meant to be something we are. Joy encompasses all of the emotions that we feel - thankfulness and gratitude, contentment and satisfaction, sorrow and pain. Joy is what permits us to maintain our spirit, come what may. 

In a world with such a limited vocabulary for emotions, we need to learn to live a dynamic human existence and get out of that very small box. I believe that joy is one of our keys to doing this. I believe that developing a temperament of joy, an orientation of joy toward our world and our life, is the best way to embrace the fullness of our emotional reality and to live the dynamic - Jesus calls it 'abundant' - life for which we were created.  

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