Often I write to you about joy because it is one of my favorite subjects. There are so many levels and so much to say about joy. So I am counting on the fact that you, our reader won’t mind a little series on the subject for the next few weeks. Maybe it will help us all get through some of these grey Indiana days. Our readers in sweeter climates are smiling now.
By the way, just for a refresher. The word joy in scripture literally means internal delight. Happiness is the recognition of how blessed we are. They are very much intertwined but there is a difference. Especially in “joyspeak.” I think I may have just coined a word! I have also heard that the difference between joy and happiness is that happiness occurs because of something that “happens” to us. Joy is that deep settled peace and knowing that God is in control and loves us relentlessly. Anyway, both words bring a smile and are related to feelings of gratitude.
But as for “joy lesson #1” let me bring in another word to our “joyspeak.” The word is contentment. I think of contentment as being joy’s peaceful, relaxed, and laid back cousin. Dr. Earl Henslin has a good definition of contentment. He says, “Contentment contains the habit of being grateful for everything there is to be thankful for.” That surely doesn’t happen to us overnight. In fact, how many people do you know that you could describe as being joyfully content most of the time?
So how do we get there? Even for the esteemed characters of the Bible it was hard. Read this quote and see what you think.” True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.” G.K. Chesterton.
A good place to watch someone at work in this is in the Bible, in the book of Philippians. The writer of this book (a man named Paul) apparently had to learn to live in laid-back joy. It didn’t come instantaneously to him. It happened slowly, bit by bit and experience by experience. It was as Paul grappled with the hurts and the messiness of life as it is. Not life as he wished it was. Just like you and me. But God never left his side. He lovingly and compassionately tutored his pupil in what really mattered in life. God taught Paul what people could learn to live without (or live with) and still be profoundly at peace….and even have “laid-back” joy.
I long to know this lesson too. I want to know how to sustain a peaceful sense of abiding joy when life rattles the windows of my world. I also want to learn it so I can be part of passing it on to those I love; to people who are stuck in pain and want to move on. Philippians 4:13 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Sometimes it feels like this world is rubbing us raw. Like the famed Velveteen Rabbit, we are loved and being rubbed to a state of being real and content, having laid-back joy. IF we will allow it we can develop the habit of gratitude for everything there is to be thankful for. Then we will start to “get it” and learn that we don’t need to be in a perfect world to be content. We just need God’s perfect peace to live in it.