The worst thing about being happy, I’ve found, is the terror coming with it. You’d think when you are blessed in a way you’ve prayed so much for, you’d finally find peace. You expect to dance to jazzy ukulele chords, sprinting uphill in the perfectly breezy sunshine, reaching the top and eagerly going home for a cup of tea (iced or hot, whatever your fancy) and some time praising Jesus with those ukulele songs and Scriptural lyrics.
I discovered quickly that doesn’t just happen easily.
Jazz chords are usually pretty tricky to play without your fingers becoming contortionists on the fret board and your tea seems an afterthought (worse: maybe you’re out of tea when you get home, or don’t even like tea). At home, your lyrics are clumsy and don’t feel like even the right words to do God justice. That tea becomes an afterthought because you’re absolutely winded going up the hill, and you don’t even feel like you’ve made it back home because of how sweaty and uncomfortable you are. And the pitiful thing is, you didn’t climb that high a hill. Do you even have the right to smile at your evening walk?
I’m not talking about struggles. Well…I am. But it’s the struggle for joy.
Joy isn’t just something you feel. Belief that God’s at work, despite our imperfection, I’m finding, is a choice. Just like love, it’s not a warm, fuzzy thing in your gut–it’s an action that we do in the grace of God.
I have this happy thing. It makes little plucky songs of praise dance in my head the more it progresses. It’s like a blue sky drive in summer, with rolling fields and houses. It’s like rainy evenings with restfulness. It makes me want to smile.
Emphasis on the wanting to smile. Sometimes I do.
But other times, my instinct is to hermit-mode things. Hide in a hole–or maybe cling to the thing. Maybe lock up my heart so I can never ruin it. Lock it away from everyone else, perhaps? Who knows? Anything to not sound arrogant. I don’t want to hurt people with my happy. Stoicism becomes very tempting too, and it’s easy to push it away as not a sin. Emotions always lie.
But God must’ve made feelings for a reason, and I think that they’re made to fully sense and experience creation as He intended it. At the same time, sin causes us to feel the brokenness the Fall brought. God still redeems it, however, by giving us empathy and sympathy. We feel together, including the sad feelings. Joy is not just a feeling. Joseph Solomon (one of my favorite youtubers), once taught me that joy is a byproduct of obedience and walking with God. It’s not the goal. It goes deeper than warm, fuzzy feelings.
Joy is part of worship. It’s not simply a good attitude, it’s not just being happy rather it is deep satisfaction, contentment, and the state of awe and amazement with God’s grace. That’s how we’re able, as believers to have joy in the middle of pain too.
I am completely, utterly overwhelmed with God’s love. It is not that He loves me more because He gave me something lovely. I realize God’s love because I not only don’t deserve His blessings, but now I see His constant protection in the time I didn’t have the blessing. I understand the asking in tears and confusion now.
I’m not on another “spiritual level” having this nice thing either. I’m just learning the same truths in a new place. I’m growing in a new place. A place with tea, jazzy ukulele chords, giggling, and uphill, yes, but this place can be scary too and there will be hard times ahead. Of course, sometimes it’s okay to enjoy this spot too. Whatever place you’re in, reader, you’re growing there too, whether it feels quite chipper or not.
We talk a lot about the up and up being a good thing, but gosh, do we forget that going up takes so much effort. Wings tire, legs get sore, and even planes run out of fuel eventually. Every missed note and dissonant sound that enters my songs of praise, comes from past and present imperfection and sin. It’s blown louder on the speakers in my heart by Satan. It pounds my heart a little too hard and I feel a little too much. I cannot breathe because the happy thing in my hands is too sugary-sweet a tea, too soft and fragile a song picked on the nylon strings, and too high a hill. And then I don’t know what to do with it. God has to supply me with the oxygen to experience joy in a way that isn’t all about me, but about blessing others. He helps me breathe easy and use the gifts I’m given as a witness and to help me grow.
I can’t emphasize enough that our joy isn’t about us. It’s about Him. And that means using it to help other people see God’s love.
They weren’t called Songs of Ascent for nothing. These Psalms (120-134) were sung by Hebrew pilgrims while walking up Mount Zion to the Temple.
A literal uphill climb in worship.
My doubt constantly nags me. Yet I need to keep taking steps of faith in being joyful and thankful. So much could go south, yet I pray for wisdom with each step and I try to thank God for every lesson when I screw up. Joy’s something we need to decide to live in rather than trying to be our own god and/or by being so terrified. I’m prone to sin, but it’s between God and I, and He’ll work through it and change the imperfect things and struggles in my heart, just like He already does. Our task: to learn and be with Him in this.
Psalm 127:1-2 says,
“Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain you rise up early,
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for He gives His beloved sleep.”
You don’t have to snack on “anxious toil” rye. You don’t need to lay awake building a thousand collapsing sandcastles on the beach. You don’t have to guard those collapsing castles. We are free to entrust them and our scared, happy or sad little hearts to Him for how He wishes to use them. We may sleep soundly under our Papa’s watch and we may smile, crying the happiest tears over His love, whatever happens. Because whatever happens, He loves us.
I can’t ascend the hill myself, but He’s there to hold my hand and toss me up onto His shoulders when I’m tired, making me giggle like a little girl.
- “Movements” by Rend Collective Experiment (Love this one. Plus the video makes me smile).
- “Lost?” by Kings Kaleidoscope (This song encourages. It’s possible to be just completely overwhelmed–in the full sense of the word–by God’s love. But it’s a good kind of lost. Makes me see how incomprehensible and gracious God’s love is.)
- Words on joy from John Piper (Gave me a bit of inspiration. Truth right here.)
- A sermon by Josh Garrels (Yes! Josh Garrels the musician, preaching a sermon in his church. I found this a month back. Totally clicked it in curiosity without knowing God would speak to me in big ways with it. Give it a listen.)
If things aren’t so joyful now, know that you still have joy in the love God has for you. I don’t tell you what it is that’s happy in my life right now because I want you guys to know this: I’m trying not to find happiness there. I’m trying to remember (and it’s freaking hard) that my joy is in Jesus. It’s a learning process and always a chance to pursue intimacy with God. Just know, it’s normal if you feel terrible or feel elated, but use it to encourage others. God redeems the horrible and sickening and painful and every gift He gives is a humbling reminder we’re shown mercy by a loving God. He does use it, I promise.
If you won’t take my word for it, take His.