The truth is that this first week dedicated to finding joy was characterized, ironically, by a remarkable lack of it. I was impatient, restless, and progressively drained. When I noticed joy was gone, I grew more impatient, restless, and drained. Even I can see the trend.
Then I noticed how much of my emotional state depends on my circumstances. I noticed, for example, how much of my day is filled with activity that I’d rather not do and which I blamed for my restless heart: cleaning dishes, folding laundry, grading papers, etc. And then there was the realization that my spiritual state depends too much on the relational state of my children. When they are in harmony, I’m happy. When they bicker, I’m short-tempered. All in all, the skittish stag named Joy spent most of the week in the tall timber.
So I begin this hunt by admitting that I’m afraid of failing since it appears that I’m failing right out of the starting gate. I sit in my frustration and restlessness. I sit in my anger. I wonder how a broken man like myself is going to find joy.
Then I remember Elizabeth Eliot who, when faced with deep fears, was famous for simplifying everything down to one command: do the next thing. What is the first thing to do?
Stop trying to drum up a feeling.
Look up the word.
So I unearthed my Oxford English Dictionary and read: “Joy is a vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.”
The definition links joy with satisfaction or well-being. Perhaps the word “contentment” has an important, but often neglected, roll to play when it comes to joy.
I have been remarkably discontent this week.
Perhaps there is a link between my lack of joy and my lack of contentment.
I spend so much effort trying to “be joyful” and when I fail, or circumstances around me seem to impede my joy, I get deeply frustrated. Milk gets spilled. A tire goes flat. Everything unravels and that elusive stag slips further and further into the woods.
Maybe a life of contentment, regardless of circumstances, is the way to find joy.
I want joy. I want it badly, but it never seems to stick.
What if I can only have joy as a byproduct of having contentment? Can I pursue contentment this week? If so, will joy return?
Those who are thankful are often the most content people I know. If I imitate them this week, giving thanks “in all circumstances” (I Thess. 5:18), then perhaps I will once again wake up to see that elusive stag standing in my yard. I will be still. I will not look him in the eye lest I spook him. I will go on being thankful in that moment.
I want to be like the poets, learning to sit still and sense the gratuitous unfolding of gift around me. That is waiting on the Lord who, alone, is Joy.