Joy

Once, when I was a kid, I got in trouble.

I remember gettin’ a talking to for not showing enough emotion, especially when I was expected to be visibly grateful and happy. I think I was very awkward expressing emotions at some points, which may be hard for you to believe if you have been around me lately. I don’t know why I was almost non-communicative emotionally. I don’t think it was all due to being a brat. 🙂

I have been attending a 3-part class on adoption and substance abuse. Last week was about temperament. One of the dimensions they spoke about was emotional intensity. As a child, I had low emotional intensity. I was rarely hyper, excitable or giddy. I also did not show much sadness or pain. I was happy but also cautious, rational, and rule-oriented. Basically, I was 5 going on 55.

As I have become older, I have become comfortable admitting my emotions as well as a tendency towards melancholy. I am content with not being an optimist. At the same time, such a historical sense of apart-ness from the happy, hyper crowd has left me with a lingering sense of missing joy–like an observer to this great Christian virtue I never got. It has made for an internal dialogue and striving that sets joy as something foreign, other, and a “should” destination that is really tough to get to. I find joy intimidating.

There have been about a million mediocre reflections, devotions and sermons written on joy. I have found few very helpful. At the risk of adding another to the pile, here is what is helping me this year when it comes to the J-word.

Joy is not as much a behavior or demeanor as it is a current.

A space for wonder. Opening. Submitting. Tension. Aim.

I joined the shepherds this morning when I read in Luke 2 of when the angel delivered the news of so-called “great joy.” They saw Him. The area all around them was filled with His glory. They were surrounded by the sacred; they had full view of Love Himself. And yet they also stood there, filled with fear. The good news of great joy didn’t seem to take too quickly. Or did it?

So often in modernity, we are subtly and overtly told we have two choices. Grief or celebration. Democrat or Republican; liberal or conservative. Demonizing or deifying a person. Productivity or healthiness. Separating convictions or moral relativism. Sadness or happiness. All is well or all is lost.

In the current of joy, from what I can tell, there is space for and instead of or. The end of the story is not what it used to be and the field–the announcement–is big enough to handle the glory and the fear.

Therefore, I can cry over losing a baby girl without losing the possibility of rejoicing over her first holidays, even if she is never told about me. I can choose to accommodate and be hospitable to people with religious and cultural rules that are different to mine, without losing my own point of view and witness. I can lament in the current of joy. I can be completely hurt and I can forgive the perpetrator. Though I don’t exactly know where I am headed since I joined this stream, I do not have to stay put in the Pain.

Joy can be before us, as much as it feels beyond us. Much like the newborn King–who, for the joy set before Him, endured suffering. Joy can carry us, when our feet cannot find the ground but in our core we insist that there is more to this story, that there is redemption for the darkest moments. Joy frees us to remember that we are not the center of the universe but we are attended to completely. Joy shifts us so we remember that Shalom is for all people, for all parts of people, for me, for the Other, for this.

That’s all I need. Not a new personality. Not a beaming demeanor. Just a shift, a space–a to-be-continued lightness. To be included in and count myself a part of a well-ending journey–that is joy enough this year.

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