Before having children I was a teacher. One of the rituals I had every year was filling in my school calendar. At the beginning of each school year I would buy a large desk calendar. I would fill out the calendar with important events, most importantly the days we had off, decorating it with markers, color coding each event. It was my holy grail of calendars. If I was having a particularly hard day I could sit back in my fancy "swively" desk chair, look at my calendar and anticipate the next vacation, birthday party, or free day to sleep in until noon. Often I would repeat to myself (or sometimes to the students), "Only three more weeks until Spring Break... you can do this!". I seemed to be living from "calendar event to calendar event".
We do this so often in everyday life as well. We have count downs for baby arrivals, marriages or even the return of a family member from war. Though these events are life changing and weighty on the scale of importance, they have a pending end. The internet has made our countdowns even more exciting by offering us handy countdown apps, or calendars you can subscribe to that tell you how many days, minutes (or even seconds) are left until the anticipated date and time. I love living in anticipation. There have been times in my life that I thrive on it, especially when I am anticipating something HUGE!
As we get older, we check off some of these "life milestones" like graduation, marriage, babies... then we hit a plateau in life. I suddenly have no need for a fancy countdown calendar to reel by, and I hit a lull.
My mom is a wise woman. (If you only knew the depth of her wisdom.) She is the person in my life that I can count on to give me an honest answer, even if it is hard to hear. She can be my sounding board when thinking through decisions. Lately, I was talking to her about some different situations and she shared with me something that has been pinging back and forth in my head for the last few weeks.
"Heather, you find HAPPINESS in "happenings", and JOY is constant no matter what our circumstance."
When she said this to me, I agreed and then we kept talking, eventually moving on from that topic. But as I am still and listen, I keep coming back to this phrase.
First of all, am I seeking happiness or joy? Am I depending on my life to be filled with exciting "happenings" one after the other, that lead me to believe that I am "happy"? Am I putting more weight on being "happy" than being "joyful"? Should I even seek out happiness, or is it a byproduct of joy? (These are all questions that have entered my mind the last few weeks when thinking about my Mom's statement)
Joy is internal contentment that comes from internal factors like our faith in the Lord, whereas happiness is dependent on external circumstance.
Over and over scripture talks about the Lord being a source of Joy. "The joy of the Lord is my strength"(Nehemiah 8:10), "the fruit of the spirit is... joy" (Galatians 5:22) , the Lord is the "joy of our salvation"(Psalm 51:12)... you see what I am saying? Joy is referred to over 300 times in the Bible, where as the word "happy" is only referred to 30. The fountain from where joy flows is from the Lord alone, not by our own accomplishments, and not through any exciting situations. Joy is unconditional, cross cultural, interdenominational, it breaks all socioeconomic rules, it is intergenerational, non-gender-specific and uncircumstantial.
In James 1:2 Paul actually commands us to consider it "pure joy" when we are confronted with trials... (what!! Talk about counterintuitive.) Our human nature wants to look at the trails in our life, no matter what they might be, and focus on the negative. When we give power to the "happenings" in our life, we allow them to lift us up (when they are good)... but to also bring us down (when they stink). Instead we need to surrender that "power" to Christ, and when we do so, he replaces it with Joy.
If you find yourself in the plateau of life, and you don't have "joy"... you will either make up exciting "happenings" to get you through (sometimes these are detrimental to your relationships, jobs, or responsibilities) or you may sink into a circumstantial depression, because "things just are not going your way". When I catch myself in this frame of mind, I pause and I pose the question:
"Am I seeking happiness or am I relying on joy?"
Really think, are you allowing the "happenings" in your life to dictate your emotions, or are you depending on the strength of the Lord to provide you with the internal contentment that we call "Joy".
Thanks for reading.