Joy is Not a Four-Letter Word

Joy has been like a curse word to me for the last few years. While typing that sentence I realized that curse words have probably left my tongue more easily than the word joy. Wow, that’s sad.

I’ve tried to understand joy. I really have. One of the definitions people spout is that happiness is based on circumstances while joy has no dependence on circumstances. I just haven’t been able to buy that. Merriam-Webster’s definition of both concepts is pretty much the same. So, I just don’t get it. Yes, I realize Merriam-Webster is not God, but I’ve studied joy in the Bible too and I still don’t get it.

There was a time I would have understood it better. Then life stomped my joy to a pulp and has continued to do so for years. I think joy is not even allowed in my vocabulary because I truly believe that the second I let it back into my life, my heart will be crushed again with the next horror that awaits me. I’ve heard many people who start to climb out of chronic illness say the same thing. We are afraid to rejoice. We are afraid to get our hopes up. We. Are. So. Afraid. Goooood grief, this post is depressing. Speaking of, everything I’ve described above might be the actual picture of depression, which adds another depth of difficulty. How do we get past this? How do we let joy back into our lives without waiting for it to be crushed again?

The answer may have something to do with the verse below. It jumped off the page yesterday, piercing my heart, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since. I know there’s a reason. I know God wants me to find joy again. I know this. I believe God wants me to be happy. I also believe life will never stop trying to suck the happiness away. How can these two beliefs exist so strongly in one person?

“…my joy in unrelenting pain- that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” – Job 6:10b

I’m still not entirely sure, but maybe joy isn’t all feeling. Maybe it’s more related to faith than I ever knew. Through unrelenting pain, joy comes to us when we do not deny the promises of God. I have to face facts… and feelings. When I doubt God’s promise that His goodness follows me all the days of my life (Psalm 23), I have no joy. When I doubt that God will turn my pain into something beautiful and good (Romans 8:28), I only despair. When I doubt that God’s purpose in my life is the very best purpose there could ever be (Proverbs 19:21, Jeremiah 29:11), I live in the darkness of sorrow.

But when I believe that God is always, ALWAYS good, the sparks of joy appear. When I sing about His goodness following me, I can feel them ignite. When I let God love me through the pain, the tears turn to from sorrow to joy or maybe a mixture of the two. I’ve been seeing more of the sparks lately, though I stomp them out myself before life can do the honors. But maybe their fleeting existence means that one day I will be able to quit stomping and welcome the flame of joy with open arms. Maybe my eyes will become wet with joy, awe, wonder, and God more often than hurt. Looking forward to that day fills me simultaneously with excitement and terror. God, help me. Help all of us who are terrified to let joy back into our lives.

Living without joy is miserable. It is dark. It closes the door on any kind of happiness we may experience, rejects the gifts God wants to give us, and only lets Him love us with limits. I don’t want to limit God. I don’t want there to be any boundary at all between God’s love and me. I pray that He breaks this stronghold in my life, gives me strength to combat the lies I have believed, and loves me back into joy.

When I picture myself joyful, my shoulders physically relax a little, like a weight is being lifted off of them. So I have to ask myself, what is the weight? I think it can only be one thing: self-protection. God has been revealing this as the biggest issue that still entangles my life. I’m trying to fend off the sting of more crushing when that is not my job. It’s God’s job to protect me, not mine. That doesn’t mean He will protect me from bad things happening, but that He will protect me from being completely crushed when they do. He will love me through whatever heartbreak is in store for me. He will be my safe place to pour out my pain if I will only open up to His safety. If I attempt to block more pain from my life, I also block joy, love, peace, everything that is the fullness of God. I block God from the deepest parts of my life. He longs to enter into those deeper places and bring His light. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand joy – I haven’t let Him deep enough to explain it to me. I don’t want this anymore – this illusion of self protection. It’s too much. It’s too heavy a burden I was never meant to carry. God, help me lay it down. I don’t care anymore how it has to happen or how much it might hurt or how many tears I have to cry in front of how many people. I am done. I am tired. I want the fullness of God. I want the fullness of love and of joy.

The fact that I’m even willing to talk about this is a big deal. It says to me that God is making me ready for His healing in this area. It gives me hope that I am moving in the direction of joy. Thank You, God. May I along with my fellow fearers of joy break free from that fear that so hinders us and open our hearts to the joy of the Lord. We will not be disappointed, this I am sure. His goodness is His promise and when we hold that tighter than we hold our protection, we allow joy to show up and to thrive. Pour into us with the fullness of joy, Lord God. May we remove the blocks, embrace the sparks, fan the flames, and fuel the fire. Amen.

“You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

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