Joy will chase us down, embrace us in an irresistible hold, and cover us with unexplainable love when we least expect it. Count on it. You were meant to be joyful.
Have you ever been in a very somber and quiet place surrounded by somber and quiet people and suddenly gotten (as we say in the south) tickled? By tickled I mean a completely overpowering and totally inappropriate fit of laughter because of something you saw or heard or remembered at exactly the wrong time and place. This has happened to me a couple of times in my life, most memorably when I was fifteen years old. As mortifying as it was at the time, I still laugh out loud when I think of it.
I was attending a one week choral music camp on the campus of the University Of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. We had a wonderful time all week long. Sleep deprivation, living in a real college dorm, eating real college cafeteria food, roaming the beautiful campus, and learning a great deal about singing and performance from an aged, learned, well credentialed, venerable and tenured professor of music. There were a few hundred teenagers spending many hours each day in a huge choir room singing our hearts out. I was in awe of us. I'm pretty sure the professor was not.
On the last night of camp there was a concert by some graduate students. They really were excellent well trained musicians and they were very impressive to my easily impressed teenage mind. The only problem was the boy sitting behind me in the audience. He kept up a constant banter of truly hysterical comments, only funny to teenagers, about the performers' facial expressions, music choices, you name it, this kid had something to say about it. I ignored him as long as I possibly could, and tried desperately not to be drawn in to his foolishness, but finally I could take it no longer and I started to laugh and simply could not stop. I knew I was being unforgivably rude and even though I was thoroughly scolded by the authorities, as were the other students around me who had also given in to hilarity, this is still a memory that makes me laugh.
It is fun being surprised by laughter. I really love it when that happens. This past summer as my husband and I were driving along a mountain road, he told me a true story about a golf course where all the caddies are llamas. I guess you had to be there, but it was just too funny and I got so tickled at the image of a llama carrying golf bags I simply couldn't stop laughing. I'm laughing right now remembering it. Laughter is said to be good for us, and I have always noticed that the good feeling that comes from laughter lingers long after the laughter itself has gone away.
The same thing happens with joy sometimes. In the most unusual and unexpected moments we can be given the gift of joy. In the midst of deep sadness I have often experienced an unexplainable bubbling up of joy that I am helpless to resist. It is a sure and certain knowledge that all human experiences are temporal and that this sadness is not forever. It is the realization that there is always a reason to be grateful and, therefore, joyful.
These experiences have allowed me to understand ever more clearly with each passing decade that joy and happiness are completely separate things. They are not connected even when you are experiencing both simultaneously. Happiness and joy are not, and cannot, be conjoined because their sources are not even remotely similar. I have often taught middle schoolers that happiness depends on what is happening and joy depends on what is eternal.
We choose, as humans created with free will, to lean on the things of earth that bring happiness, or the things of eternity that bring joy. If we choose happiness there will be many more hours spent without it than with it. If we choose joy, we cannot escape it even when we think we have the right to wallow in our current misery. Joy will chase us down, embrace us in an irresistible hold, and cover us with unexplainable love when we least expect it. Count on it. You were meant to be joyful.
Yesterday I had a phone visit with my eight year old grand daughter Ella and she reminded me of this. She told me that she was sad because of the death of my mother in law, whom the children always called Mamaw. And then she said this: "But it's okay. She's in heaven being taken care of by God. We used to take care of her, but now God does. So it's okay." I responded by agreeing that it was, indeed, okay and that even though we are sad now, we won't always be sad. There is always joy. What a treasure it is to have a child remind you of the great truths.
In our Harbor Home we have chosen joy over happiness. That means that even though we have seasons of deep sadness, frustration, and discouragement we know that these will not define our lives. We are driven by the love of an eternal God who created us to embody this overpowering force. Joy is so much more than an emotion and it cannot be contained by any means devised by humans. Take time to experience the wonder of joy!