I don’t know about you, but I have realized in this season my need for joy. It actually feels like desperation. It has been so easy to be stressed, worried, frustrated, anxious, you name it. Discouragement has been constantly within reach, considering the state of the world and how divided our nation has been. On a personal level it has been challenging to feel isolated or in some way separated from people who I would typically have in my home or sitting at my table.
I have realized my deep need for joy.
My current morning read is Following Jesus by Henri Nouwen. I loved this quote about joy:
“The more we make security our primary concern the harder it is to be joyful. To be joyful means to jump out of that place of safety and to try something new. It is a constant discipline to keep moving away from the fearful places and to choose joy.”
If I had to sum up the invitation God has been offering me in this season it might be exactly that last phrase: practicing the “constant discipline to keep moving away from the fearful places and to choose joy.” The fearful places are so near, so evident, so tangible right now. To choose joy is a fight, but I have realized it is the one I’d like to choose. It is the battle worth fighting.
In all this we have to be reminded of what joy actually is. As Henri Nouwen states, “Joy is not a momentary vacation from the heaviness of life. Joy is not something to escape the problems of the world.” Joy is not the same thing as happiness; it is not without suffering. It is inexplicably linked, actually. Joy is a deep, hard-fought gift. Joy is being present to our circumstances, acknowledging the frustrations or sorrows, and yet remaining hopeful in who God is to us within it all.
I am constantly fighting the idea that joy is silly. Like that when we mention it, people around us will just say, “You’re being ridiculous, this is not the time for joy. This is serious, do you see what is happening in the world right now?” But truly, that is even more why joy is so absolutely necessary. Joy is what will save us. We need to see children laughing, flowers blooming, sun shining, family together, hope brewing. We need bubbles and balloons and fireworks. We need deep conversation with our best friends, announcements of exciting life events, dreams for the future. We are actually desperate for joy.
I am particularly excited for the Advent season, and just the opportunity to celebrate the Christmas season this year. We need this clear joy more than ever. I know there are always challenging things around the holidays, and that it isn’t such a clearly joyous experience for all of us. But there is something about the gathering, the celebrating, the cheer and traditions, that I am anxiously awaiting. And I also relate to the concept of Advent, the anticipation, maybe more than ever. We are waiting for our world to be healed. We are waiting for hope to be restored. We are all personally waiting for different circumstances or dreams to be realized. In Advent we are reminded that all of life is this beautiful anticipation – mostly to be restored to our Creator and to live in the fullness of His glory. We need celebration, because it is how we actively practice joy.
I also have been thinking that maybe seeking joy helps us see what is right in front of us, even when things are hard. Joy keeps our eyes from drifting, our minds from wandering. Joy can help protect us from worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, or from creating stories about what is uncertain. It keeps us face to face with what is real and true and beautiful. While sometimes I would view joy as balloons taking us off the ground, maybe in actuality, joy keeps us grounded.
So, how do we do this? How do we seek JOY? It is fairly easy actually: just look around. Start paying attention to the things that make you laugh, or the things that fill your home with delicious smells. Look for the people who make you feel like your best self and spend more time with them. Take a walk and appreciate God’s creation. Start a list of things that you are thankful for. Mark your days with gratitude, and you will most definitely find JOY.
When this season could easily (and sometimes does) feel like a waste, the practice of joy helps us find the good and sacred right here. In all the ways we are waiting and anticipating, even for good things to come, we need to seek joy right here. We need to keep our feet firmly planted on God’s promises to us, and rest in who He is to us, today. In all the challenges, in the fear, there is still JOY to be found.