A feeling of great pleasure….delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation, solace. These are the words we sing every Christmas about the birth of Jesus. They are words that I have not felt for months until I heard a message at my church on Sunday and another one last night when I couldn’t sleep. I had confused the definition of joy with happiness, and they just are not the same.
How can I feel happy after being alone for half of the year? Dangling from the edge of a relationship, crumbling away inch by inch, day by day? Waiting for an end to the suffering of watching something I truly loved take its last breath? My marriage. My old life. My very being. Waiting to see who gets what, putting a dollar value on a life of togetherness. How can I be happy right now, my mother encouraging me to start a new life? I liked the old one.
But these messages from God brought a new concept to me. Life is not always about feeling happy about our circumstances. Life is a bunch of unexpected changes along the journey and is not very pretty, and in fact can get messy and dirty. As my pastor said at church, Mary could not have been thrilled after riding 70 miles on a donkey into Bethlehem, to find nowhere to have her precious baby other than the smelly stable. But the joy that filled her soul, knowing she just give birth to the Messiah, the savior of all mankind, soon spread quietly through the night.
Joy is that silent partner that hides below the surface, waiting to be released even in times of sadness and despair. You can be joyful even when you are unhappy. They are exclusive of each other. I met a woman recently at church that had been an orphan in France during WWII. She lost her family and lived in a Catholic orphanage until she was 20. She then married and moved to the states and started a new life. But it held little happiness, with a daughter born, an eventual divorce followed by the birth of three precious grandchildren. What followed was unthinkable. Her ex-husband committed suicide, the daughter and her children moved far away from the woman, who then followed them many miles away to Denver in hopes of happily reuniting as a family. Thirty years later, she is still estranged from her family, and lives alone in a tiny apartment, driving a car with little paint or upholstery, wearing clothes similar to what I first made in Home Economics in high school.
Yet this tiny quiet woman sways silently with the rhythm of the music at church each week, a genre much different than what she grew up with 80 years ago. She asks almost child-like questions in our bible study group about God, about Jesus, faith, and belief. She has so little and yet so much more than most of us. She expresses her concern about me each week and shows more empathy than my own family. I have never seen a better example of godliness and humbleness. She wants for nothing, only to hear the music and the message each Sunday; to break bread with us at bible study, mid-way through the week. To live a life believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who saved her life and soul many years ago after she lost her first family.
Joy is always with us. There are so many things to be grateful for that we take for granted of, especially when you are ill, or someone you love dies, or your marriage crumbles. Joy is seeing my grandchildren’s faces as they walk through my front door, throwing their little arms around me, saying “Nana” softly under their breath. It is seeing how excited my puppies are when I get back, minutes after getting the mail, total unconditional and non-judgmental love. If only we could all love others like little children and puppies.
Joy is finally tackling my life-long goal of finishing my degree. Joy is reading about things I never dreamed of and learning about the endless views of society and cultures. Learning about good and evil and why people behave the way they do, with some people tearing each other down over silly political viewpoints and yet others who reach out to help a person in need even when money is tight. Anne Frank once wrote that “No one has ever became poor by giving to others.” I want to keep learning about amazing joyful people, regardless of their circumstances in life.
Joy is the breathless triumph of knowing you are ready to face the day after a sleepless night filled with anxiety and sadness. Ready to take that first painful step in the morning, as your joints and back try to diminish your joy. I have God by my side, and I am ready to take on the challenges along my journey. I have joy in my soul, knowing that I have much to be thankful for in my life. I will rejoice in the goodness of life, not the evil that tests our faith in God and mankind.