I came across a Gaelic prayer this week that began: “As the hand is made for holding and the eye for seeing, you have fashioned me for joy.” Have you ever considered that? That you are “fashioned for joy”? Is it really possible God intentionally designed and crafted us for joy?
Sometimes it sure doesn’t seem like it.
If the prayer were true, joy would be as foundational to our daily experience as our hand holding a morning cup of coffee or our eyes seeing the hour on the clock. Joy would be natural … and obvious … and so automatic as to barely require thought.
There are people in my life – not just acquaintances but friends – who are battling fear-inducing, seemingly insurmountable challenges: treatment for a life threatening disease, a child’s mental illness spiraling out of control, deep betrayal, job loss, marital breakdown, incarceration. These dear people are experiencing life’s lowest blows and I wonder, how are they to find or exude this joy for which they were created?
Joy is listed in the New Testament as the second of nine traits in a believer’s life that provide evidence he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Believers are to be like branches drawing our strength from the Vine – God’s spirit – not summoning it up from our own inner resources.
But let’s be honest, sometimes joy is elusive, especially in the deep weeds of life, and it’s tempting to try and manufacture it ourselves. As humans, we are inclined take good desires too far. We idolize human love, fall into addiction, spend more than we should on an adrenaline rush, to name a few.
So finding joy legitimately and not succumbing to a counterfeit has to be intentional. As we all know, the crushing circumstances, the heavy burdens – they may not go away; in fact, they could get worse.
Interestingly, my friends above are each finding joy, even in their respective crises. One cultivates a sense of humor while undergoing chemo; another closes her email with “but did you see the clouds at sunset tonight?”; the betrayed one chooses gratitude over bitterness; the jobless one cracks jokes about shared experiences with difficult people; a newly separated friend reaches out, resisting isolation; a bewildered mom clings to hope.
Sometimes I think we just have to start by reaching for the “low-hanging fruit”, the small things that, under ordinary circumstances, we might not even notice. A jogger’s wave, a peaceful morning, an apology accepted. By embracing the tiny graces, we set ourselves up to live more joyfully when things are hard. We make joy a habit.
For many, the best way to experience joy is simply to give it. An anonymous good deed, an offer to pray, a wordless hug. I can’t think of a single time I’ve done something to make another joyful that it didn’t have a positive effect on me, even when I wasn’t present to see their response. We find joy by being joy-givers.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul found joy in a very unlikely place. Few had it worse in his day; he was in chains in a cold, dank Roman prison, facing execution. Yet his letters to the first-century church were filled with expressions of love, helpful counsel, tender admonishments, and encouragement. Always encouragement.
The early Christians must have rejoiced on hearing his words and no doubt, his own burden was lifted by writing them. Centuries later, we benefit from Paul, the joy-giver.
Joy is so much more than positive thinking or mere relief from discomfort. It’s allowing God to fill the space in us that He created, the space designed and intended for a relationship with Him which delivers the only source of lasting joy in the storms of this life.
As we ask Him to open our eyes to the joy available to us in the midst of difficulty and to open our hands to receive His blessing even when we are hurting, it becomes clear: Pain and sadness are part of the human condition, but joy is a gift from God.
You and I are fashioned for joy.
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