Joy. The one word I feel has been lacking from my spirit these past couple of weeks.
Do you ever have those days, or weeks, or months, where you can’t seem to find the joy in your life? As if someone stole it right from under your nose and hid it? And then, before you know it, life begins to exist through tinted glasses and fast-forwarded days and you live and sleep and live and sleep and… You wake up and do it again.
That’s been me.
What is joy? The Bible never describes it as an emotion, as we too often do. (Even notice how I conveniently used the word “feel” at the beginning of this post…) Nor is it a situation or an environment.
So what is it?
The Bible says to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), and to also “eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do”. (Ecclesiastes 9:7) Peter says that “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy“. (1 Peter 1:8)
Therefore joy is present in the good and the bad. It is abundant in our trust and belief that Jesus is Who He says that He is.
So why have I felt this way? Why, if I have always believed that joy is constant in the life of somebody following Jesus… why has it appeared so distant?
I was given an incredible gift today.
You see, it’s my birthday. I’m 21 today… 21 years of exchanging oxygen and stories with the other souls in my life.
Birthdays are funny. Your birthday is the day that is always supposed to go right. Presents are supposed to be given (and returned…?), cake is supposed to be eaten, friends are supposed to be hugged, Mountain Dew is supposed to be drunk (drank? drinken? sp?).
And yet, often they can be the most disappointing day of the year. (Am I right?) That most-wonderful-boy-in-the-entire-world-who-is-your-future-husband-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet fails to wish you a happy day, you’re away from your family (college…), and you don’t quiiiite get the gift you were betting on.
Well, today I was given the most incredible gift, one that left me in tears in a dorm stairwell at midnight.
You see, these wonderful people in my life, my friends, gave me the gift of words. I received a book full of letters- letters from the people that mean the most. I was given the gift today, in the wee hours of my birthday, to read through my tears the encouragement that I didn’t realize I was so desperate for.
But the most incredible gift of all was one from Jesus, from the One who pursues me and chooses me and sweeps me off of my feet every time I fall. You see, He knows- even when no one else does- my heart. The depths of my heart. He knows when my cells scream to explode from happiness, and He knows when my soul shrivels and cries alone, “God… why am I here? Why am on this campus? What good can I accomplish? I can’t even conquer these sins of pride and idolatry… how can you even use me?”
He sees me through even that.
And today He saw me. How do I know?
Because do you know what word I read over and over and over in those letters?
Repeatedly, over and over again, I read myself on the page being described as a vessel of joy in the lives of those around me- lives that needed it. I sat there amazed and awed and completely overwhelmed by the intense beauty of the moment. Me- the sponge who feels squeezed-clean of it- was in some way, somehow, a fountain of joy to the people around me.
Why do I tell you this?
Believe me, it’s not to brag about all of the “great things everyone’s saying about Maddie”. It’s not to extinguish your last excuse of not “knowing it’s my birthday”. (PS I like cards and dark chocolate ;))
I tell you this to bring up a very specific and intrinsically beautiful point.
Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.
Let me say that again: Jesus doesn’t need me to feel joyful in order to bring joy into the world.
9 times out of 10 I allow my emotions to dictate truth in my life, and it needs to stop. You see, emotions do nothing to the promises of God. Joy is a gift given- a filling in which we are merely willing vessels.
It is not something I try to do, not some trait I attempt to accomplish.
Tonight, sitting in a deserted stairwell, I was reminded that being used by Jesus to change lives is not something that I do. As I held my oily, end-of-the-day face in my hands and sobbed tears of complete joy, I was held in the comfort that I don’t need to be or do because everything has already been done. And because Jesus is.
He is joy, not me. I am merely the birthday girl that gets to unwrap it.