Very recently, I led a discussion with a group of women about “Joy.” The one thing that these women had in common is a dark history of pain, hurt, and suffering. For this particular group, joy was a topic that compelled a myriad of thoughts, perspectives, and even confusion. When I asked them what joy might look like, here were some of their responses:
“Being really excited about something.”
“Maybe like winning the lottery.”
“It’s being so happy you can’t stand it.”
“Something really great happens that you really wanted.”
One lady, who was the last to speak, had a response that I found particularly disturbing. In almost a whisper, she said, “Joy doesn’t happen to everyone. Joy is for those people who have everything they want and they are smart enough to have not made the mistakes that I have made. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what joy feels like.”
After some discussion, I posed the following observation to the above answers:
“What if joy wasn’t contingent on any form of external circumstances? What if joy took the form of… Contentment? Feeling safe and secure? Knowing someone loves you unconditionally?”
My question was met with eyes the size of softballs and the most piercing silence I think I have ever experienced. It nearly cut my heart right in two. These were looks of shock, wonder, and perhaps a little bit of timid hope. No one spoke, and all 15 of them leaned forward to see what I would say next, as if wondering what the catch was.
You see, this is such a common dilemma. We substitute external situations and tangible expectations for true joy and peace in our hearts. I watch these women as they struggle and toil, thrashing about in a world that keeps throwing them curve balls. They swing high, they swing low. They maneuver about in desperation, hoping beyond hope for a hit, for a break. They try, they try, and they try harder—to no avail. It’s no wonder they are in despair. They are chasing a counterfeit form of joy, and every time they grasp it in their hands, it escapes them yet again. One wrong move, and it is gone; one mistake, and it vanishes.
How often do we chase after a person, a word, a look, a purse, a drink, a book, a dress, a sport, a show, a scent, a smile, a promise, a home, maybe even a sermon, a mentor, or a class… to give us the fulfillment that we so deeply desire? We set our eyes on moving targets and begin to engage in a sort of mental gymnastics as we chase these things down, demanding the “joy” they have promised us. The entire time that we are running the gauntlet of our own dissatisfaction, God is waiting on the sidelines for us to come to our senses and rest in Him. What usually happens is that we finally collapse under our own exhaustion, and He scoops us up in His arms and carries us off the playing field of the game we were never meant to play.
The joy of God is not a moving target. It is not something we must search and seek to attain. It is a place of the heart where we rest in the comfort of the One who created us, where the world is silenced and all is forgiven.