This post was not written to be funny. Yes, yes, I know my blog is titled, “Laughing Out Loud” but that doesn’t mean I must only write about funny things! We don’t have to be laughing and smiling all the time (even though those are two of my very favorite activities). My desire is to help people recognize the beauty of their lives and to express themselves rather than living out their days on autopilot. In doing so, hopefully I will grow in these areas as well.
Recently, I experienced a strange phenomenon. I didn’t feel like laughing and my smile became slow to appear. At one time, I would have pushed these moments aside and carried on with my (fake) merry little life. However, just because I am capable of doing so definitely does not mean I should do so. Instead, I want to dig into these moments and discover why they happen and what I can learn from them. And so, I write.
Sometimes joy is an elusive concept. In fact, I think it is one of those things that I understand most when I don’t really think about it. When I buckle down and contemplate joy, I struggle to find an adequate definition. What does joy truly mean to me? (Never mind what it might mean to someone else!) Some things are simply more difficult to articulate than others.
The dictionary definition of joy is: “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” However, it seems to me that ‘pleasure’ and ‘happiness’ do an inadequate job of summing up joy. Joy is something much deeper and more complex. I say this because being joyful does not always depend on a person’s present state of mind or emotions. We need not be happy in every moment in order to live a joy-filled life. If our source of joy is unchanging, we can live in a constant state of joy regardless of our feelings and emotions in any given situation. (I say feelings and emotions because recently I learned they are not synonymous! That is definitely a topic for another day (or another year) but here is a link to a rather interesting article on the subject.)
Joy and the source of joy can be a bit complicated, but I believe it is immensely important. As someone who doesn’t enjoy feeling what I (wrongfully) call the “negative emotions”, it is important to recognize that sadness, disappointment, pain, anger, etc. need not affect my state of joy. Furthermore, I need to recognize that laughter, excitement, happiness and smiles are not always indicators of joy. I can be sorrowful yet joyful. (Yes, it is possible!) It all comes back to the source from which we draw our joy. If our joy is found in the work we do, the family we have, the adventures we’ve experienced, or our definition of success (to name only a few) we are setting ourselves up for a big crash. When challenges arise and these temporal sources of joy are shaken, we find ourselves falling from the idea of joy we have built up, unaware of how to find our footing.
I believe joy can be defined in many different ways, but the following are a few definitions I’ve come up with.
- knowing my true self
- realizing the purpose of my life
- recognizing the world is much bigger than myself
- realizing no matter what circumstances come, there is One who sees me, knows me and loves me
I suppose I would say joy is often a matter of perspective. There was a time when I didn’t know who I was (I believe we never stop growing in this area), I was unaware of my purpose, I was self-centered, and I did not believe in a God who sees me, knows me and loves me. Honestly, there are still times when I struggle with these things. Those are the moments when I must not rely on my feelings because if I did, I would probably start thinking I lost my joy. In these times, it is most important to remember the source of my joy is Jesus Christ.
Yes, I know people can find joy in their work, their families, their beautiful homes, their numerous friends and many other things. My point is, all of these things are vulnerable to crises which could result in feeling like joy has been lost. Friends, when joy is secured in Jesus, it is possible to live in confidence that joy is unshakeable. We can still find joy in a myriad of things, but our source of joy must be unchanging to keep us from being stuck on an exhausting emotional rollercoaster.
I found this quote by Nancy Leigh DeMoss rather helpful:
True Joy is not the absence of pain, but the sanctifying, sustaining presence of the Lord Jesus in the midst of the pain.