So, You’re Not Jumping for Joy

Have you ever felt guilty for not feeling joyful enough? You’ve received the message, explicitly or implicitly: “if you’re a true Christian you can’t help but be joyful.” After all, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. And we are implored to “be joyful always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

We’ve probably all heard about the difference between happiness and joy—”happiness is based on circumstance,” people often say, “while joy comes from the Lord.” I know this is true, and I’ve found comfort in it. But my comfort has sometimes been paired with an abiding unease, a nervousness that maybe my faith is lacking because I’m not constantly (or even usually) jumping for joy.

One reason is that life is tough. Jesus promised it would be, and it is. Yes, the Bible tells us to be joyful always, but we’re also instructed to lament, mourn, and weep when it’s time for those things. Clearly, being joyful doesn’t mean pretending everything’s fine, smiling through clenched teeth. So how can you be joyful, when things are so stinkin’ hard?

In the Bible, joy is most often paired the idea of hope in salvation. I know this because two years ago God prompted me to choose “joy” as my theme of the year. At the time, I was like, “that’s awesome, I’m finally going to learn the secret of being joyful all the time!” So I spent some time meditating on all the Bible verses dealing with joy. Sadly, I did not learn how to jump for joy all day, every day. I learned that joy isn’t an emotion. It isn’t a physical outburst. It isn’t insisting on being happy even when things are stinky. Being filled with joy isn’t even necessarily visible to other people. 

Biblically speaking, joy is the comfort, peace, security and hope we experience God’s presence and salvation. Consider this verse from the prophet Habakkuk:

“Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Habakkuk was grappling with the oncoming suffering of his people. If all the crops failed and the animals and people were starved and subjugated, Habakkuk says he is still going to be joyful in God our Savior. If you’ve lost your income, your health is suffering, or you’re grieving, the joy you experience won’t look like dancing in the streets. You won’t be jumping for joy, and that’s okay. You can still possess joy in God’s certain salvation of your soul. This kind of joy might look like smiling through tears, not jumping up and down.

Another reason a believer may not be always jumping for joy is simply that God designed her to be a quieter person. Don’t get me wrong, we are called to be joyful, but not all of us are designed for the kind of high-energy, high-octane, million-watt-smile brand of joy that we might have believed was standard for a sister in Christ. As I learned from this insightful article, introverts serve the church in different ways.  And I believe the expressions of joy of an introverted disciple—quiet, contemplative, intimate expressions of joy—look different from the exuberance we often associate with joy. 

One quick caveat here (and maybe this is just me, so feel free to listen in while I talk to myself for a second): Michelle, being introverted is not an excuse for being negative. You still must guard against negativity in your thinking and your words. Introverted joy might be quieter, but when people lean in, it still sounds like joy.

That said, joy for some of us doesn’t include jumping up and down. For the introvert, joy might take the form of a pleasant and peaceful disposition, an ability to point others to the Lord by listening well, or private moments of worshiping the King of Glory.

Maybe for you, joy looks like turning your face to the sunrise in the middle of a depression that seems unbreakable. Maybe joy looks like getting on your knees in prayer again this morning, even when you haven’t felt like it in months. Joy, in some seasons, is a quiet and profound acknowledgment that no matter how I am feeling, Jesus is Lord, and God’s salvation rests on anyone who comes to Him.  

Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:9-11, emphasis mine.

As sisters to our fellow believers and humans, maybe it’s time to reset our expectations a little bit when it comes to joy. No more pressure to paste on a smile, or stifle the truth about how I’m really doing, or to act like a cheerleader when you’ve always been more comfortable watching from the bleachers. 

Introverted sisters…sisters going through dark days…rest assured that your joy–complete joy–is truly found in God, and that is in fact why you can be joyful always, expressing that joy in many different ways. It might not look like you expected. You don’t even have to jump.

Still Beautiful

Hey friend, it’s been a minute. Since we last met here, the world has been in utter turmoil. You don’t need me to tell you about the pandemic and its economic fallout, the loss of life, the agony of pervasive racism, the climate change sparking fear like all those wildfires, or the actual wars and rumors thereof. You don’t need me to remind you of the friends who left your church, or left church altogether, or left the faith, and all the reasons why leaving felt preferable to staying for them.

You don’t need me to tell you: the world is an ugly place.

I’m popping in here after all this time, after all we’ve been through, to acknowledge the ugliness and still proclaim the opposite.  I want to say—no, I want to declare, to yell–that the world God has given us is profoundly beautiful.  Still beautiful, still worth something.  Yes, it is fallen and ugly and sad, but the world and its people remain worthy of redemption in God’s eyes, so shouldn’t we also look for the goodness in it?   

That the world is still beautiful is actually amazing, with my news feed looking the way it does.  It is beautiful in a way that is only possible because we still have a God of unbridled, boundless grace.  A God who makes beauty from ashes.  Whose light can never be devoured by darkness.

Source: NASA

Despite all the ugliness and horror and pain, the beauty of nature is manifest in trillions of ways, large and small and cosmic and micro-cosmic (is that a thing?).  The beauty of human compassion and kindness and love still shines so bright against the darkness it can make your eyes water.  The beauty of God’s love for us in our fallen state, in our ugly world, in our sorrow over the way things are, is infinite.

This isn’t denial, it’s defiance.  So often during the last couple of years I’ve felt overwhelming sadness, near-complete grief over the things we’ve lost and are losing.  That’s what happens when we focus just on the ugly.  But God tells us to fix our thoughts on something else—whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).  That is, above all else, God Himself.  And it is also what He has created, from the blooming flowers in your backyard to that gorgeous sunset at the beach to the guy who held the door for you because a double stroller is just too much.

That’s all I wanted to say today.  It’s a small thing but it’s also a big thing.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve naturally sought out the beautiful no matter where I am.  I even had a series on my old blog called Seeking Beauty.  God’s been showing me lately that He made me this way partly so I can encourage others, so my hope and prayer is that it encourages you today!     

Love ya!