What do you think of when you hear the word joy? Do you have a mental picture that personifies joy? When I think of joy, I get two images. One is of a person standing in the rain, arms stretched out, face up to catch the raindrops, laughing. She may be wet, but her joy is not dampened. The second image is of a person getting on in years - her hair is silver, her face creased. But she is engaged and interested in those around her, listening intently, delighting at each new thing she sees, hears or experiences. Laughter comes quickly to her and she nods along eagerly as others share their life and views with her.
For a while now, I've thought joy isn't really something for me. Last fall, I went away for a weekend to hear Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson talk about Grace and the Enneagram. As I was preparing to leave for that, I was thinking about two other women in my life that are also Enneagram Nines. I could see some similarities between each of them and me, but they are both funny, lighthearted people in a way that I am not. I shared this observation with a friend during the conference and was able to articulate that I feel like I'll never be able to be joyful - I'm just too scarred, too wounded to ever recover the joy you see readily flash on the faces of children. I cried as I told her this, both out of sadness for this thing I do not have and out of fear that I am not worthy of joy.
Before Lent, I was talking with a friend who said she longs for joy. She longs to enjoy her children more, to delight in them and alongside them. To this end, her Lent was about learning to stop at regular intervals in her day. She was learning to make space for joy.
I don't actively long for joy like this friend of mine. If anything, I long for peace and contentment, things which I suspect are vague shadows of joy. I settle for these rather than risk seeking the real thing and falling short. Yet I think peace and contentment are companions on the road to joy because I envision joy as more pervasive, more persistent, less mutable than happiness. I imagine joyful people have an inner peace and contentment that their circumstances can not ruffle and can not take away.
I picture joy as something nearly tangible, something you can grab and hold on to and feel it alongside you, underneath you, beside you. And when I think of it this way, I wonder about how closely joy and the Holy Spirit are interconnected. Because when I think of the Holy Spirit, it's as a swirling, comforting presence all around me.
The Holy Spirit is the aspect of the Trinity that I most long to be like. I don't want the responsibility or inspired devotion of God the Father. Nor do I long to be the ever present teacher that Jesus is. But a soft, encouraging presence that points others to God, to truth, to beauty? These are traits I want to embody.
Last night as we sat around the dinner table, we discussed the transition from Lent to Eastertide. We talked about what we learned during Lent and what we hoped to delight in during Easter. I asked these questions before fully thinking through my own answers to them, so it wasn't until later that I realized that while my Lent did not go as expected, I did make very real progress towards beginning to identify the desires of my heart. And if joy is evoked by the prospect of possessing what one wants, perhaps this is a good first step towards joy.
Easter day did leave me feeling oddly lighthearted - not as a result of any one experience but from thinking about a series of small truths seen together: truths like the realization that love must be very strong indeed to have defeated death and that our biggest blessings often come just from lingering near God, not from any activity on our part.
Maybe this is how joy is found - by following the trail of breadcrumbs God leaves for us, each one leading us closer and closer to the realization of how much He loves us and how immutable that love is. Because when we grasp that His love for us cannot and will not change, joy is the only possible response.