There’s a theme that’s been running throughout my life recently: joy. I see it all around me. I’m part of a faith community that emphasizes joy in a wide variety of ways, for which I am ever grateful. My son’s name means “happy” or “blessed” and my daughter’s means “bringer of the good news of joy,” and these two delightful kiddos regularly reflect these benedictions that were pronounced over each of them at their births.
But I suppose, to be more precise, I should actually say that the theme of my recent days is not so much joy itself but instead the pursuit of joy. Because, you see, joy is hard for me. That’s part of the reason why I need a community that reminds me of it and encourages me toward it. It’s part of the reason why I desired joy to be an ever-present aspect of my children’s existence, inescapably woven into the fabric of their lives through the meaning of their names. I long for joy to be an ingrained, abiding characteristic of who they are and how they experience life precisely because I know from experience how significant its presence (and its lack) is.
But it doesn’t come easily, at least not for me. I know people who seem to be naturally joyful. But me? I get too caught up in the demands of life, the never-ending tyranny of the next thing on the to-do list, the challenges that feel overwhelming at times. That’s where I focus. And, quite frankly, when I’m around one of those people who seems to have joy overflowing all the time, I find myself getting either annoyed or jealous. Not exactly the delighted response that joy should elicit, right? I wasn’t well trained in joy, you see. I was given a lot of wonderful things in my formative years, from both my family and my church. But familiarity with how to cultivate deep, abiding joy wasn’t particularly prominent among them. So I’ve got a long way to grow in this area. And I’ve had a few stark reminders recently of the ephemeral nature of relationships and life, so the importance of cultivating joy here and now has been brought to the forefront for me. Rather than wait for another more convenient (and highly elusive) time in the future when joy will come easily (what a lie!), I need to actively work to foster joy now, regardless.
One thing I do have going for me is that I know how important joy is. It’s important for me. I’ve seen how it can transform my days, my relationships, my work, my life. I’ve seen how I wither when it’s not present but thrive when it is. It’s important for my family, especially for my kids. I’ve discovered so much about the effects that joy (or the lack thereof) has on the brain, and I’ve learned the utter importance of helping people, especially small children, integrate joy as a foundational part of their identity. And I’ve witnessed the beauty of what happens in the rhythms and relationships of my family when joy is part of our way of being. So joy is essential in my own life, and I’m committed to doing my best to make it a part of my kids’ lives as well.
But let’s not stop there. Joy is crucial in the kingdom as well. Who are we as God’s people, after all, if not a people of joy? Delighted at God’s creation, for “delight” is precisely what Eden means. Jubilant to receive God’s love and favor, and to share it with others. Joyous to be a part of the people of God. Elated at the power God has to bring transformation. Thrilled at the idea that God is in the process of making all things right. Yes, in every way, joy is central to who we are as believers and disciples. And joy changes things in ways that all the begrudging effort in the world cannot, something I have to remind myself of frequently.
As Christians, we are called to be a people of joy. But despite God’s wisdom in inviting us into this way of life, being joyous is not always an easy endeavor for us. So if you, like me, struggle to live in the joy that God created us to embody, let me ask you a few things, as I am also asking myself right now.
Where have you experienced joy in your life? Why is it important to you to pursue joy more? What do you have to do differently to do that? What do you need to let go of or add in to your life to make room for joy? What do you need to think about more? To rethink? Or to stop thinking about altogether? Who do you need to spend more or less time around? Who do you need to open up to, serve, or forgive?
Whatever it might take for us to make room for joy in our lives, it is worth it. For the joy that God offers us is captivating, sustaining, and life-changing. It is what we truly were designed for. So I’ll leave you with one more question, perhaps the most important question yet: when are you—when am I—going to choose joy?