Joy in our lives isn’t optional; our brains are actually designed to run on it!
Joy is relational. Joy is contagious. Joy is transforming. Joy starts with a smile. Joy helps our brains grow better than any health food. Joy reduces stress. Joy has more social impact than looking sexy. Joy improves our immune system more than exercise. Joy protects marriages. Joy raises brighter, more resilient children. Joy improves resiliency after disasters. Joy spreads to transform lives. - Joy Starts Here
So here’s my confession: I have lived most of my life unable to feel or experience joy.
My heart aches as I know that many of you reading this can relate. You’re probably aching, too. Or maybe you’re too numb to ache. On some level I knew that my life lacked joy. I could feel the absence of something I didn't know the name of.
Being analytical, I’ve always looked at myself and...shrugged. I don’t have a cheerful, optimistic personality. I’m melancholy. I struggle with depression. I’ve lived through traumatic things that have impacted me. I’ve never expected myself to be happy.
I thought, “I don’t get to be happy.”
I remember being at a youth retreat when I was a teen. My older sister was praying over me. I remember her crying, affirming me, “Kristianna, it is ok for you to be happy. You have permission to be happy!”
My sister said “happiness,” but what she meant was “joy.” (Happiness is circumstantial. We eat a cake and we feel happy. We see a beautiful sunset, or love our new apartment and happiness splashes across us like a rainbow of light.)
But Joy, oh my, Joy is a different thing. Joy is a state of peace and contentment. It is also, neurologically, when we EXPERIENCE that someone is as glad as glad can be to be with us.
Friends, joy is relational.
Joy is found in interaction with other people, or in the memory of it, or with God. Joy is cycles of dopamine and serotonin dancing beautifully in our brains, while our Spirits revel in the gladness of someone glad to be with us, even in our pain.
At that youth retreat I knew what my sister meant and I wept at her words. I could feel the tantalizing pull of what it would be like, to feel…light. To regularly feel…I don’t know, contentment and peace. But I knew, deeply and instinctively, that I was hardly even ABLE to feel joy. It wasn't a choice. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know how to fix it.
It was one of those moments of helpless despair that I’ll never forget.
A friend might be glad to be with me, but the joy coming from their smile bounced straight off of my brain. I struggled to participate, reciprocate. Maybe you can relate.
Fast forward 20 years. I’m elbows deep into my office reorganization project. (I’ve mentioned before that I’m a paper hoarder.) I’m sorting through a box of old letters and I’m going to be honest, several glasses of wine have accompanied me in this project because…I’m having a hard time re-feeling my adolescence. (It wasn’t pretty.)
In the middle of this box of pain, loneliness and anger, I found a letter that I’d written (but not sent) to a friend. I was 16. Everyone was going on the youth group ski retreat…except me. (Of course.) I gave my friend specific and amusing instructions about how to carry on in my place. But then there was this: “Please supply quiet, sarcastic comments…treat everyone coldly.”
OH MY WORD! Is it more painful that I had that level of self-awareness or that I had accepted this was who I had to be? The last instruction to my friend caused me to reach for my adult beverage and another fistful of Swedish fish: “If anyone talks about me please tell me what they say. Most likely it would be nasty, derogatory, and humiliating. Seeing as I don’t care what others think of me, it doesn’t really matter.”
The emotional reality of that swept over me like a tidal wave. I remembered what it felt like. Most painful of all, I could feel the Belief underneath that statement.
I did not believe that anyone was glad to be with me. Ever.
By the time I was 13 I was not glad to be with me. I thought that I was the worst. I can remember the feeling of being tensed, of bracing myself, of always waiting for something bad to happen. I braced myself because I was self-protecting. And, if I’m honest, I still live like that a lot of the time.
I sat by my cardboard box with my glass of wine, looking back at that broken, terribly hurting little girl who went to horrible lengths to make herself tough, killing some of the most precious gifts of mercy, tenderness, and empathy that the Lord had placed inside of her. I was at a loss for words.
And friends, if THAT was the end of the story, we might as well all give up now.
But sitting there, surrounded by old letters baring the marks of my turbulent adolescence, Jesus said, “I really liked your teenage self. I liked to be with her.” His words hit me deep in my gut and, before I even had time to get over the shock, He reminded me of how my ODF, (oldest-dearest-friend), who met me when I was 15 and (insanely) thought I was the coolest thing ever, was glad as glad to be with me…even in my brokenness and my pain, in my humiliation and my loneliness. I could feel it, deep down, her gladness. It was a remarkable feeling.
He began to remind me of every single Encounter I’ve had with Him, of how many hundreds of times He’s shown His faithfulness in my life. He reminded me of the supernatural redemptive work He has been doing FOREVER in my life. He spoke from the Psalms,
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
He is mindful of me because He likes me. He actually enjoys me.
The old box of letters got a little dousing of tears that night. Guys, I’ve been on this joy journey for a few years now. It’s hard. It’s also changing everything. This process, in my own life, is only possible because the Lord stands with me and gives me strength. He is upholding me, every single day, as I stand fragile and broken and immature and learning that He is always glad to be with me.
Maybe you saw our “Yellow Canary of Joy” series pop up on iTunes and your heart shuddered. Maybe you’re noticing a lack of joy in your life. Maybe you’ve never had any.
I am standing here to tell every single one of you that the Lover of your soul came to bring you joy!
AND THAT IT MATTERS!
All of us here at Moolily send our love and every little scrap of courage that we have to you. We’re going to be talking about joy for a couple of weeks and it is our prayer that you say yes to the King of Kings and start the joy conversation with Him.
In the mean time, we are glad as glad can be to be with you!