Joy has been delayed again!
I have a collection of thoughts, ideas and comments to share on this topic. It has been great to recognize and own some of these things. Others are more things I agree with, in my head, and hope to know more of in the reality of living.
So here are 10 things to say about joy as a fruit of the Spirit.
1. There is quiet joy and exuberant joy. Some joy is simply the gift of recognizing and receiving the gift of this or that, and other experiences shout out, perhaps literally, inviting others to know this joy too.
2. Joy is indeed a gift, and it comes often as a surprise. In this, joy is like the rain. There is a delightful song, written by Miriam Winter, on this theme. The words are now available in the public domain:
I saw raindrops on my window, Joy is like the rain.
Laughter runs across my pain, slips away and comes again.
Joy is like the rain.
I saw clouds upon a mountain, Joy is like a cloud.
Sometimes silver, sometimes grey, always sun not far away.
Joy is like a cloud.
I saw Christ in wind and thunder, Joy is tried by storm.
Christ asleep within my boat, whipped by wind, yet still afloat.
Joy is tried by storm.
I saw raindrops on the river, Joy is like the rain.
Bit by bit the river grows, till at once it overflows.
Joy is like the rain.
(Sister Miriam Winter)
3. Joy is for me deeply related to music. Perhaps the most intense ways in which the Spirit brings me to a sense of God’s presence is through music. I delight in (some) music as I work, especially when I am wanting to write creatively, to develop a lecture or sermon or an article. Music brings me to a deep sense of joyful presence.
4. Joy is also the special domain of children. Kids have a wonder-filled openness to all that is around them, an interest in things and in people that is free of prejudice and so many of the fears which cause adults to hold back. I’m not wanting to romanticize here. Children can also be cruel and of course they need to learn appropriate caution. But they do also live close to wonder, in ways we need to re-discover. They are open to joy, far more than adults. They laugh more and they wonder more. The gift of joy is in them and comes to us from them.
5. Joy is closely related to other gifts and virtues. I found this quotation last week: ‘When you wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love, prosperity, happiness, and all good things.’ I think this is true. But I also think that joy is possible when one is aware of these other gifts. When we know we are loved and when we have found some peace, with ourselves and others, then we are also more liable to be surprised by joy. It comes to us, with these other fruits.
6. The linkage with love is specific. As we suggested earlier, love has a healing and redemptive power. It can bring us to joy. So, American writer Robert Heinlein has said: ‘One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys comes from being happy over the good fortune of others.’ Similarly, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: ‘Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though t’were his own.’ Both of these writers are expressing the linkage with the self-giving aspect of love. Being able to set aside one’s own interests perhaps, or simply recognizing and valuing the ‘merits’ or achievements of another, we may find joy in their good fortune, achievements or success. In our self-absorbed and success-driven era, this is counter-cultural, but it is I think true and wise. And it is difficult to live. It is something we need to try to do, as well as something which becomes for us a ‘fruit’, and outworking of God’s way within us and between us.
7. As we saw within the Scriptural references, there is also often a linkage between suffering and struggle, and joy. The poet Kahlil Gibran makes this linkage also: ‘He who has not looked on Sorrow will never see Joy.’ (Apologies for the gender-exclusive language in some of these quotes.) It is through the trials of life, both for individuals and communities, that we come to such joy. About 20 years a go, Henri Nouwen wrote a wonderful book called Gracias!, a journal of his time living in Latin America. He reflected on the daily, persistent joy of the incredibly poor and struggling people with whom he was living. There is something of fundamental truth — and challenge — for us here.
8. Joy is infectious. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, ‘Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.’ I think she was meaning something about the way joy can create a new sense of community amongst people, so that they really do allow themselves to belong. When we laugh together (which I know is not exactly the same thing as joy) we drop our guard for a moment, and that time are open to each other, and may even be a little vulnerable. Joy calls others into belonging. Like laughter, it is infectious.
9. Joy enables us to be content. I am sure that this is what the Apostle Paul was writing about, in Philippians 4, 10 & 11f. There is no accident that the statement of content follows a verse of rejoicing: ‘I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern fro me; indeed you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. (Paul the diplomat!) Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’ The Paul elaborates that he knows what it is to have little, and to have plenty, and in all circumstances he finds he can persist, and ‘can do all things’ because Christ strengthens him. And he receives the encouragement of knowing that his friends share his distress. It is this quiet joy, much more I think than the exuberant joy, that allows us to be content, and to care for the good of others. This joy, which comes at us from the side, as it were, this joy of surprises, this joy that allows us to endure, in hope, this allows us to content in the face of difficulties and the ‘long littleness’ of life.
10. Joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit. We cannot manufacture joy. I reject out of hand those approaches to worship and to spirituality which try to ‘whip up’ joy, to make us ‘happy in the Lord’. If that needs to be manufactured, then it is unreal and a self-delusion. But there is the joy of deep knowing that we are sustained, loved, cherished by the living God. This is the joy of belonging, of trusting, in spite of ourselves, often, and this joy comes to us like the rain. It does not come to the ‘deserving’. It does not come as reward or merit. It comes from the generous, delight-filled heart of God. It is pure gift. It does not come continuously. Not for me anyway. I am inclined to think that many others may know it more than I do, while some others are pretenders. But it does come, an out-flowing, out-growing expression of God’s presence, a fruit in the garden of the Spirit.