Originally published July 2, 2013
For only three letters, this simple word conveys so much complexity.
Rapture … revelry … wonder.
But, amongst all that hooplah — at the very soul of “Joy” — there is deep comfort and contentment. As it usually is with treasure, there’s a lot of digging deep to find this kind of Joy (which I believe is deserving of capitalization).
I’ve pondered over several Bible verses through the years as I’ve journeyed to be closer to God. Those about Joy rank at the top of those verses. I’ve remembered one going something like, “there are two kinds of joy; one, no man can take from you.” I searched for it, but the closest I’ve come to it is John 16:22: And you now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you.
As was often the case when “searching for meaning,” I stressed more about that statement (what I thought it was) than I needed to. Struggling with personal issues, I often wondered what good could come from them. There were, afterall, many Bible references to overcoming trials and tribulations and rejoicing afterwards (like the aforementioned passage). I just didn’t get “it,” didn’t feel it — the joy from overcoming pain. Seriously, I thought too much about what the pain meant to my life. My excuse: I was young and self-absorbed.
On the other hand, there were many times when I knew and felt very strongly that I was experiencing great happiness in the form of true contentment, but that — sadly — it wouldn’t last. It was bittersweet knowing that I would come “down” from that “high,” and I would begin grieving the loss of that Joy even before it passed. What a waste. I wish my excuse could be “youthful stupidity,” but it wasn’t all that long ago that I was guilty of this morose kind of thinking. (What the heck — I’m going to blame it on my Catholic guilt complex, which doesn’t allow good feelings for too long.)
In a similar vein, not giving into Joy fully for fear of losing it is not uncommon; I recently watched an interview between researcher/speaker Dr. Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey about how deep Joy (versus the ecstatic kind) can be terrifying because it leaves us feeling vulnerable. As an example, Dr. Brown offers how a parent might feel overwhelming love as he/she watches their child sleep or play, then in a split second the parent might feel deeply frightened thinking about the worst that could happen to their child. Dr. Brown, who has spent years researching emotions such as shame, worthiness and vulnerability, says that experiencing true Joy goes hand-in-hand with the daily practice of gratitude. Based on my Life’s journey, I believe that’s very true.
As an example of growing through “trials and tribulations,” for too many years I was angry with my mother for choices she made regarding her health; these were choices that had affected me when I was a child, and continued — I felt — to impact me in my 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. I was self-absorbed, holding onto past hurt and anger and allowing those feelings to darken our relationship. That was my choice. Instead, if I had chosen not to take my mother’s choices personally, if I had chosen to just love her, pray for her health and leave it in God’s hands, I would’ve enjoyed my time with her more. Now, I feel as if I’m playing catch-up, but I’m not going to stress about it anymore. I can’t get those years back; I’m just going to live in the present, be grateful for what time we still have and hope for the best. I only wish we lived closer so that I could spend more time with her.
As for not fully appreciating the Joyful moments that are within my grasp every day for fear of losing them or — more often the case — because my head is somewhere else, I often think about the years when my daughters were young, especially when I’m looking through old photos. I want those years back so badly. I want a do-over — only I want a do-over with the mature heart and mind I now have (notice that I did not say “mature body” 😉 ).
This photo of our family shows how happy and proud my husband and I were, our first Christmas in our new home. Our daughters were ecstatically anticipating Santa’s gifts under the tree. One of my Christmas decorations for many years, this would be unpacked and packed back up with the tree and ornaments. Now, I keep it out year-round, and tear up for those years, for many moments like that one, because I’m sure I wasn’t “present and feeling grateful” then. Instead, I’m certain I was thinking about making it to church on time, preparing dinner and wrapping gifts after the girls went to bed.
Well, I can’t get those years nor the following years back, and my time with our daughters is limited; they are grown and living on their own, learning their own lessons. But, I can remember to breathe in and taste every moment that we share, and to say, “Thank you, God,” rather than, “Sadly, this won’t last forever.” These and other experiences — like flowers blooming and ducks on the pond — can become etched like photographs in my memory and soul. Like the poet John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is joy forever.” It is Joy that “no man” can take from me.
* Photos credited to author.