Fighting for Joy

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” – C.S. Lewis

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Sunday, we lit the pink candle in the Advent Wreath. I don’t know why joy has to be pink. If my 4-year-old friend Alice were designing it, her joy candle would include paw prints, a picture of the sun and glitter. But thousands of years of church history being what they are, we’re stuck with pink I guess.

Joy is elusive. At least for me it is. There are moments when I can hardly contain it, when joy crashes down like a powerful wave on the beach and wants to burst out of me in floods of words and hugs and laughter. But there are also moments when joy is like a mirage in a hot, dusty desert, when it feels like joy is everyone else’s state of being, but not my own.

I assume that we all want more joy, less parched mouth and dried up skin, more of the good waves on the beach. Why is something we want so much sometimes so hard to find and hang on to?

It’s hard because joy has its enemies, and they can be fierce.

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Are you aware of how the news, politicians and even some pastors are often appealing only to our fears?

“Fear your child’s winter coat.” (Really!)

“Fear the Muslims.”

“Fear the ‘liberals.”

Do you know they do this because when we are afraid, we are easily duped into voting, buying or behaving in the way they want us to? Appealing to our fear is manipulative, but highly effective in nearly every context. And fear is an enemy of joy.

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For you enneafreaks (yes, that is a thing), I’m a three on the Enneagram, which means that I’m often struggling with feelings of shame when I don’t perform to my own (unrealistically) high expectations. When I give in to shame, when I allow the voices in my head to run rampant, when I believe the drunken monkeys when they tell me I’m not good enough, joy is elusive. It’s nearly impossible to find joy when you feel unworthy of love. When you’re hustling for your own worth, it’s hard to receive joy.

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The same is true of judgment. When I am standing in judgment of others (or even myself), I can’t experience life as joy. If I assume the role of judge and jury in someone’s life, I won’t be able to celebrate with them. And when I’m standing in a place of judgement over “the culture” or another religious group or against large groups of people in general.

It’s easy for some of us to believe that we really know best. We know best how our kids, spouse, friend should live. We know best how the church should be run, how the school should function and the “right way” to organize the family Christmas. To the degree to which we live in a state of “one-up” to the world around us, we will find it difficult to enter into a state of joy.

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Several weeks ago I noticed that someone had “planted” a bouquet of fake flowers next to the curb of the church drive. (See the picture at the top of the post.) Over the weekend, another bouquet of fake flowers showed up in the lawn outside my office window.

It’s completely absurd that someone is “planting” fake flowers in the church yard. And yet, I keep laughing. For some reason, it makes me ridiculously happy that someone has this sense of humor, that someone is sticking fake bouquets in the ground – bright, garish bouquets – with what I assume is a mischievous grin and an abundance of joy.

That’s the person I want to be. I want to be the person who overflows with joy so it spreads all around, even if it’s a bit absurd. I want less desert and more crashing waves of joy that leave people smiling, laughing and feeling filled up in my wake.

But to get there, I will have to do battle with fear. I will need to silence the voices of shame and I will need to move towards accepting others as they are, and not as I wish them to be.

Joy can be mine, but I might have to fight for it.

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May you this Advent Season find joy. May you ruthlessly battle against the enemies of joy – fear, shame and judgement – and may you be a co-conspirator with heaven in the “serious business of heaven” bringing joy everywhere you go.

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