Into joy

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, when spring comes after a very long winter, is to let yourself soften into joy and not hold back. What if it is snatched away again? Isn’t it foolish to be this happy? Are we really out of the woods yet?

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience,” Brene Brown has said. “And if you cannot tolerate joy… you start dress rehearsing tragedy.” That is, you imagine something bad is going to happen simply because things are going so well – and that scenario in your head drains the joy right out of that moment. Her research has shown that not participating fully in the joys of your life won’t make the pain of the losses any less. In fact, diving deep into happiness when it comes, will build your resilience for the next difficult chapter. But how can you do that when you’re met with fear and foreboding? She has found that whole hearts start giving thanks. You enter joy with gratitude.

What does the Bible tell us about experiencing the highs and lows? It contains many calls to mourn, and many calls to rejoice, but no commands to stifle our feelings. Only one example comes to my mind, of God telling someone to suppress feelings. He told the prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears,” (Ezekiel 24:16, NIV). The next day the prophet’s wife died, and he did not mourn publicly, as a metaphor of how the Israelites would lose their Temple and their homes, and be forced to start a new life before they could properly or outwardly mourn their losses.

The ruler of this world tells us not to let ourselves mourn or rejoice. Because mourning looks like weakness, and rejoicing looks like folly, if you are destined for captivity, slave labor, and destruction. But we are not exiles in Babylon, and we need not obey him. We are citizens of the kingdom of light, invited to come out of the shadows and experience every moment, knowing that our Father is working it all together for our good (Colossians 1:12-14, Philippians 3:20, Romans 8:28).

And was the research right in saying that we enter joy with thanksgiving? The Greek word translated “joy” in the New Testament means literally “grace recognized,” and in Psalm 100 for example, joy is inseparable from giving thanks to God. So we look for His grace, we offer thanks, and we receive joy, even when it is mixed with sadness. In Ann Voskamp’s words, “Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” We know that trouble will come, but we are still invited to experience the goodness of God and His gifts to us today, entrusting the future to His care (John 16:33, Psalm 34, 1 Peter 1:3-6).

So if life has offered you a new beginning, or a dream is finally coming true, give loud thanks to your Father for His good gift (James 1:17). Let out the sails of your heart and laugh, sing, dance, and shout for joy!