Today I feel compelled to talk about joy which might have something to do with my latest blog post, about depression, that I shared on Facebook, to 566 friends. I’m still trying to convince myself it was a good idea.
Speaking of ideas that are good, I’m thinking of getting a tattoo around my 40th birthday. I am leaning toward the word JOY; not as a reminder to have joy, but as a reminder that God is the source of joy. I find joy in my family and in my friends too and even in the little things like chai tea lattes and pomegranate lip balm. But more specifically, it will be a reminder of a time when God blessed me with unexpected joy.
Sound strange? It should, because it was.
I find joy in blogging too. It is a good form of therapy, a way to use my words without driving the hubs crazy. At times, it is rewarding, especially when someone reaches out and says thank you for sharing. That’s what makes being vulnerable a little more worth it. It makes me want to keep sharing without being concerned with the wrong things or ashamed of my broken places. For it’s in those broken places God has revealed himself the most. It’s in him I find freedom from such things as guilt, shame and unexplained sadness, but today is not about sadness.
Today is about JOY.
So what is JOY? The meaning of joy is a tricky one to dissect because there are many ways to explain joy. I like how John Piper talks about the definition of joy. He says it “is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Spirit.” If you search the internet, you will find a ton of quotes about joy. I could do without the ones that infuse guilt. For example, “joy is what happens when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” True, but that one probably won’t help a friend who is down in the dumps. “Choose Joy” is a great concept, but it doesn’t work, at least not for me. It’s much easier to choose food or shopping or sleep or TV . . . what is your or?
Helen Keller refers to joy as “the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” Too deep? She also said, “we can never learn to be brave and patient if there is only joy in the world.” I would much prefer to learn about joy from someone who struggled, I mean really struggled. Physically, she couldn’t see, hear or speak. But mentally and spiritually, she could see, hear and speak better than most! Helen Keller never ceases to amaze me.
Mother Teresa also has some wise words about joy, which makes sense, being that she is the mother of really good quotes. She said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength; joy is love; a net of love in which you can catch souls.” I like it so much it may end up on my refrigerator (see, easier to choose food). In case you missed that…
Joy is PRAYER. Joy is STRENGTH. Joy is LOVE, a net of love you can catch SOULS.
Okay, so this story about joy…
I remember feeling discouraged the week leading up to the youth winter camp. My role was to co-lead a small group of high school girls, but I was exhausted and had a terrible week. (I am a substitute teacher, need I say more?) I wanted nothing more than to back out of all my commitments, especially as a leader at camp. I thought there is no way I should be going on this trip. These girls need someone who is able to offer them guidance. I don’t feel strong enough to lead. I was beyond tired and frustrated with life. But of course, I was glad I went. For one, youth camp is awesome; two, I love teenagers; and three, lives were changed.
On the last night of camp, after the message, the band led students into a time of worship. The youth were encouraged to ask for prayer, if they felt they needed it. I went around and prayed for a few of the girls. Tears were falling, hearts were breaking and yet, God was still working. A middle school boy came to camp with a broken foot and left without using his crutches. I hate to admit it, but I had my doubts. Later, an x-ray confirmed it was no longer broken.
Sometimes God heals and sometimes He doesn’t.
As worship continued, I needed prayer too. I sat down and asked God to send someone to pray for me. No one came. I realized I was going to have to ask for it. I approached the youth pastor in the back. I said I needed prayer. A few of the leaders gathered, as did the speaker, Ryan Kim. He asked me how they were to pray. I told him my heart was heavy; that sometimes it’s due to depression but maybe this was more like oppression. I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. I was weary. I told him I just wanted to experience joy.
He put his hand on my shoulder while a few others followed suit. No one did anything weird. They simply prayed, but first he asked for my name. I said Julianne. He smiled and said, Julianne? He smiled some more, repeating himself. Julianne? Almost as if he were saying, how can you not have joy with a name like Julianne? He began to pray for me while the band was still playing, students still singing and some still praying.
I remember him saying something about confessing my sins, and in my heart I did. I mumbled it under my breath too, asking God to forgive me for the things that shouldn’t be in my heart and to get a handle on my tongue. He asked God to give me a heart of worship; a new song in my heart. He said a lot of other things that I just don’t remember, but as he continued to pray, I began to smile. I couldn’t stop smiling, even though I tried. I still find it strange today, but God replaced my heavy heart with unexpected joy.
Prayer is powerful and God is good.
After worship ended, I went back to the cabin with the girls where we spent time praying, but mostly just talking. Some of these girls were really hurting. While we sat on our beds, one of the girls asked to borrow my phone. I handed it to her. She dialed a number and then left a message. She said: Hi Dad. I love you. She began to cry, then hung up the phone. She said it was the first time she told him in ten years. I climbed onto her bed and held her like she was my own.
If we don’t experience heartache, we might miss out on what it’s like to be comforted. If we don’t experience brokenness, we might miss out on what it’s like to have reconciliation. If we don’t experience weariness, we might miss out on what it’s like to appreciate joy. I grew up in church with the understanding that joy doesn’t equal happiness and it’s true, it doesn’t always, but sometimes it does.