Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7)
If you have ever seen the Disney-Pixar movie, Inside Out, you know that Joy is one of the main characters. She is the key leader of the five main emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust) and she runs a tight ship to keep Riley, the child who’s mind they occupy, happy. Throughout that movie Joy goes on a remarkable journey finding out that life is far more complex than simply keeping everything positive and looking on the bright side all of the time. Sometimes, Joy must give way to Sadness in order that we can cope with the realities that are happening.
More realistically, happiness must give way to grief – because grief fills much of our lives.
When Paul named the second fruit of the Spirit as joy, he did not mean perfect happiness and contentment with every little thing that happens. No matter what happens. Though our world would often tell us that we should just keep our chins up and to smile because it makes the whole world brighter – in fact, the consistent obsession with personal cheeriness is extremely unhealthy and eventually unfeasible.
Real life is difficult. It is complex. It is messy. And sometimes, it really just sucks. There is frankly no other way to put it.
God knows this. Jesus certainly knew this during his earthly life. And our God – be it our Creator, Christ, or the Spirit at work among us – has never shied away from the muck. Instead, God runs headlong and jumps into the mix.
Jesus never said that you should be smiling all the time and laughing at how dumb the Devil is.
On the contrary, when Jesus spoke of joy, he was speaking of something far deeper than delight and merriment. The joy we are meant to have is one that mirrors God’s own joy.
And what does God’s joy look like?
Celebration when those who need help in this world successfully get it. Trust in one another (since our God is a Trinity) that they can work all things for good. Seeing the one you love become the very best version of themselves.
The mirror image of those things is trusting in God. Believing there is some good left in humanity left from when God created all of us. Rejoicing when others succeed in loving well. Loving others well. And serving anyone in need in our midst until they find the fullness of life God desires.
Joy is a package deal. It is deep-seated and hard to kill. Because its source is something so much greater than any flight of fancy or feeling. The origin of our joy is God’s own self.
So seek that joy. Let go of the desire to be constantly happy, because it really is not going to happen and the world needs you to jump headlong into the mess. Trust that God is present with you wherever you go, rejoicing with you as you spread love with reckless abandon. And know that God will make your joy complete.