the thing about feeling joy

The thing about feeling joy is that it is absolutely different than feeling happy.

Joy. I've been thinking a lot about this word all week. As I've studied the word, both in secular and religious platforms, I have come to the consensus that joy has a sense of permanency, as it is not achieved in an hour, a day or even a year. Although moments of happiness may help someone feel joy, joy is not always associated with happiness. Sometimes pain is associated with joy, especially when the pain humbles us to reach out to the true source of joy.

This week I read an article by a woman who wrote about joy. It is, in part, why this word has been on my mind all week. This woman spoke about a recent experience with religion, and she encouraged others who found themselves in similar situations to her own to evaluate their lives, decide whether their religious beliefs sparked joy, and make a decision to stay if the answer was yes and to leave if the answer was no. I understand her train of thought (although I thought the comparison she drew upon was weak), but I feel the need express my firm opposition to her encouragement.

Life is full of hills and valleys, and from my experience, the hills don't always seems as great as the valleys. The valleys seem deep, dark, and vast, and at first glance, it would seem they go on forever. But they don't. They don't. They stop. You eventually reach a plateau or a hill. And you eventually find that you can breathe again. And then come the small, rolling hills that roll on for a little while letting you bask in the sunlight and feel warm again.

Every relationship, whether it be with God, religion, a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, will experience all the hills and valleys of life. Without them, the relationship would remain stagnant and boring. Sometimes, relationships (whatever they may be) will be painful because they will force us to wait in those deep valleys longer than we'd like without a clear understanding of the road that lies ahead. In those moments of confusion, will we feel happiness? Probably not. We won't because we aren't getting what we want and we aren't moving forward as fast as we would like. But can we feel joy? Absolutely. We can hang on a little longer to our faith in a religion, in a spouse, in a child, in a friend, in a parent, if we believe that joy is felt in the assurance that God is in control. It will take time, perhaps a lifetime, but it is possible to hang on, believing that joy is attainable in every relationship.

All week I thought about what would happen if everyone applied her logic to the different relationships in life. I worry what would happen if all husbands/wives evaluated their lives and asked themselves if their marriage sparked joy? I doubt the results would be desirable. And what about those stay-at-home-moms who are new to the gig and who don't know how to deal with 2-year-old tantrums or babies screaming. What then? And how many people, upon evaluating their current job situation, would say their job brought them joy? I suspect not many.

So do we all just run screaming from our current situations and relationships? If so, where should we go? Is there a meeting place for us all to commiserate about our lack of joy? Can you imagine that reunion?

Or do we see life for what it is. It is a place to gain experience. We learn to enjoy the hills when they come, and we learn to appreciate the valleys for the way they push us to bend in ways we didn't know possible. And they force us to realize we are not in control.

This past week, I have been pulled in several directions. It has been a grueling and hard week. Between making meals for women who recently gave birth to visiting a teenage girl who lost her baby at 34 weeks, I have felt a million emotions each night. I don't really think joy was ever one of those feelings. But tonight as I write and as I feel the exhaustion in my back and feet, I do feel a glimpse of joy. I don't understand why I was asked to do all I was asked to do nor do I understand why this girl lost her baby, but I feel joy in knowing that I have gone outside of my normal limits to comfort someone in a situation I cannot understand.

So joy. It's real. It's there. It isn't always felt in the same ways we feel happiness. I hope that people--no matter what relationship they happen to evaluate--will be patient in the valleys and plateaus of life. Hills will come. Understanding will come. And it will all be right in the end. I believe this. I believe in having faith in God and in others.

What are your thoughts?

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"Be kind and considerate with your criticism... It's just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book." Malcolm Cowley