Wow! Am I ever happy!! I mean seriously, I feel great!!! I think I could take on the entire world, climb the tallest mountain, clean the entire house in 45 minutes, vacuuming forward while dusting behind!!!! Is this joy? I think so!!!!!
All right, maybe it’s the coffee.
I did tell the lady at Starbucks half decaf toffee nut latte, didn’t I? Just how much caffeine could be in one? Because honestly, I don’t feel joyous, just overly jolted.
My hands are a little shaky and I’m guessing not from excitement. After all, the only thing I got in the mail today was a package from someone else’s boyfriend. A package I know I shouldn’t have opened. But it said "Mary Ellen" and I thought someone who had misheard my name "Marian" decided they’d try to cheer me up. Not that I need cheering up. I am joyous, normally. I think.
At least last week I was joyous. Actually, it was last Friday. The day I found the house of my dreams. It was perfect, or at least it would’ve been once we replaced the windows, fenced in the backyard, put the downstairs bedroom to code, refinished the second bathroom, demolished two of the three standing garages, and figured out where to stash all our belongings in the 100-year-old closets. I lost my joy on Monday, when it went under contract to someone else.
Wait, I know. I was joyous last Fall. We’d been battling for the adoption of our oldest son. After multiple 1600-mile trips, four very long years, and two appeals, we got a phone call one November morning. While I knew this day was coming, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried that my faith was even smaller than a mustard seed and that absolutely no mountain of justice was headed my way. Instead, I’ll tell you the advice a friend of mine gave me in the middle of my fervent prayers and breath-holding. Similar to a scene in the film Facing the Giants, she told me, "Two men prayed for rain. One man prepared the fields. The other watched the sky."
With her words playing in my head, for entire year of 2007 I planned a party celebrating the end of the road. Up until this particular November morning I’d planned all the details. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of joy that overtook my insides when I heard the lawyer say through the ear piece of my phone, "It’s over. It’s really over and he is yours!"
I waited until the afternoon to start calling the friends who were helping us plan the party. However, while we were overflowing with relief and gratefulness, their entire family had just received news of the unexpected and horrifically tragic death of a loved one. The party kind of fizzled out in the weeks that followed. We never really did celebrate.
And it’s this up and down of my emotions that often leaves me asking: What is joy? Why does it seem so elusive? Why doesn’t it stick around longer? Why does my joy seem to depend on the circumstances that are called my present life?
In John 15, Jesus talks about joy as a deep desired object that He longs to share with us. A deep desired object I want. Yet there are days when I know I challenge Him.
Recently I stood in the mall, attempting to exchange my cell phone because I hated the fluorescent orange I’d chosen 24 hours earlier. It was too late. They weren’t able to do it. And as I felt my eyes get hot and my mouth start to make funny shapes, I knew I was about to cry in the middle of a mall, standing by a kiosk near the food court on a Saturday night.
However, I controlled my lack of joy and didn’t cry, simply distracting my emotions by asking the employee to reactivate my old phone. I let him know that I’d suffer through life with the same cell phone for four years and not complain, because that’s the kind of girl I am. Strong, obliging, and incredibly too vain to carry an orange cell phone.
The associate was fulfilling my childish request, then paused, and asked me if I would promise to not return the silver cell phone I wanted so badly. He then asked if I really, really wanted it. To which I replied, I promise, and yes, with a small "I’m sorry" at the end.
Before I could stop them, the tears made it to the top again. My eyes began blinking rapidly and adverted their gaze downward. My chin flexed to refrain from shaking. I left with a new phone and a promise to the employee that I would fill out an online survey saying how awesome I thought he was.
What was my problem? Where oh Jesus, do I find this joy You spoke of? The joy You long to share with me?
I called my husband from my new silver cell phone and told him I feared I might be pregnant. That my emotions were unpredictable and my tear ducts had divorced themselves from my body. He told me to hurry home, that the kids were singing with a joyous roar in the background.
On the way home, I began to think about the remainder of Jesus’ words in John 15:9-12:
As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Two things stood out to me. First, I shouldn’t feel so badly about the manic joy I seem to be experiencing in life. The joy doesn’t belong to me to begin with; Jesus says He wants me to be filled with His joy. So I either have to ask Him for it, or follow the directions He laid out in this paragraph.
The second thing I noticed is that His joy seems to be readily available if I am willing to focus on loving someone other than myself.
Ouch. I will find the most joy when I love others in the same way that Christ has loved me. That means putting them first, that big word s-e-r-v-i-n-g, or how about an even bigger word, D-Y-I-N-G. Other than my kids, there aren’t many others I’d consider physically dying for so that they might live. The joy just doesn’t sound like it would do much good if I were dead. Sure, I’ve never been in the situation, but it’s one I wouldn’t willingly walk
into the way Jesus did.
But how about my other selfish desires dying so that I might love someone else better? What joy could Christ pour into my life if I were to clean house on the inside and share the love on the outside?
What if I got rid of the artificial caffeinated high (or at least stop using it to manipulate my mood), looked beyond my desire to use all my extra cash for a house, and got over the bright orange cell phone and face the facts that perhaps someday it could save my life from a hunter should I be hiking in the woods.
What if I threw the party we’d planned in faith, because my son deserves to celebrate that God’s delivered us to his promised land.
What if I just got over myself? Would I be joyous?
It makes me think about a friend of mine.
Have you ever had a friend that glows? No, I mean an unpregnant friend who hasn’t recently been to the tanning bed.
I do. Her cheeks are always pink. Her favorite holiday is Christmas. She starts singing and shopping in March and has all 163 presents bought and wrapped by September. My friend, she always smiles, loves children, loves the Lord, and never has anything nasty to say. Her laugh is contagious and her generosity is astounding. I knew her for two years before I figured out her secret: she spends her time and energy loving others.
She doesn’t like to hear bad news. She won’t watch it on TV or look it up on the internet. None of it. She actually can’t handle it very well because it breaks her heart and leaves her feeling helpless and incapable of being a solution. She loves others so much, that it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of miles are between her and the origin of bad news, she’ll cry immediately upon hearing it. It’s her ability to love and thus hurt that has turned her into the most generous and joyous person I’ve ever met.
And so, I find myself praying, "Lord, let me hurt." As I recently heard Christie Nockels sing in "Hosanna": “Break my heart for what breaks Yours … I am for Your kingdom’s cause”
So that I may be filled with Your Joy. With a capital J.
Welcome to Ungrind!
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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