In a few short weeks (they seem to be getting shorter and shorter – which makes me sad since all I want these weeks to do is linger), Christmas songs will be filling the airwaves. In the malls, on the radio, at school recitals, through churches across the globe, songs about peace and hope will be sung. Peace, hope and joy.
It seems we could all use a nice jolt of each right about now.
Joy, the subject of one such beloved song [Joy to the World, by the 20th century the most published hymn in North America], is such an interesting word. It alludes to a concept more deeply rooted than happiness. In fact happiness is often used to describe joy – as does delight and bliss. It originates from the Latin word gaudēre: to rejoice.
It’s hard to think about joy today – especially amidst all of the turmoil, sadness, confusion, and anger filling social media and airwaves. Well-intentioned people scramble and fight against each other for the last word on how to love well. Because, how can love look to some like opening borders and to others like closing borders – and the like? I don’t know, but it does.
And even in all the calls for one or the other – brutal commentaries are dished. We live in a strange world where conversations occur more online than they do in person. Making it easy to say just about anything, sometimes forgetting the people on every side of the equation.
Maybe everyone’s searching to make sense of it all. But, where’s the joy? Is it here? Can we find joy, real joy – in the midst of atrocity, illness, heartache – so we can sing along tomorrow with honest hearts and true goodwill toward those traveling alongside?
Joy to the World
I remember not so long ago sitting at our kitchen table with my father-in-law chatting about the topic of joy. He was in Dallas for a visit, a small breather from his own less than ideal life-landscape. His wife of 50 years had been taken prisoner by Alzheimer’s. And due to the debilitating disease, literally everything in their life had changed. The dreams, the home, the occupation – all of it was disrupted. Dick’s new normal took him on a detour for roughly 10 years – a road that wasn’t always filled with sunshine and butterflies.
But, the man met it head on, determined – searching for the meaning of joy in the midst of far less than cheerful circumstances.
How did he do it? In a manner worth contemplating as we travel our own road.
- He grappled with joy. Honestly, not in some Pollyanna way or in an effort to prove a point. He asked the question – What does it mean to “count it all joy?” And he asked with an open mind – keeping his own answers/desires at bay. I think that’s why Hope always met him in the midst.
- He made/makes the most of his situations – even though this was clearly a tough one. That sneaky little secret about getting your eyes off yourself just might be the key to this one. He was quick to take the focus off their situation (and himself) by constantly reaching out to those around him. For the ten or so years that he made the daily trek to an Alzheimer’s unit, he was around lots of folks who needed an ear to hear their story or a good word to brighten their day. So he listened and encouraged.
- He kept going. He didn’t know the answer to counting it all joy, but determinedly – anchored in trust and hope – he put one foot in front of the other each step, every day.
- He never fell prey to a “victim” mentality. No one ever said life is fair. In fact, someone once said life is full of suffering. (That same someone also said He would meet us and carry the burden with/for us.)
I’ve witnessed my friends who are at the epicenter of suffering find joy the same way. My friend Jen who is very sick (please pray for her & Scott & little Linc) said recently – “People say to me, ‘Do you every ask why you?’ to which I can honestly answer – ‘No.’ My question would be more along the lines of ‘Why not me?’”
Which seems hard to imagine. But my friend Greg has said the same thing. As did Kyle Ogle, a friend of my brother’s. Kyle’s road included an arm amputation in his mid 20’s – kind of a bummer for anyone, let alone someone who loved to hunt. But it didn’t slow him down. He made a special attachment to his bow so he could hold the arrow and string in his teeth. In 2005, he was named Pagosa Country Adventure Guide’s “Hunter of the Year”.
Here’s something he shared in the midst of his battle:
I gave my life to Jesus and asked him to save me from sin when I was 17. My life has not turned out exactly as I thought it would. It does not say next to my picture in our high school yearbook “Most Likely to Get Cancer at 26 and Win the One Armed Dove Hunt”. It would be an understatement to say that life has been difficult the last few years. God never promised me an easy life or great wealth, just an abundant life. Things have been excruciatingly hard at times, but we have lived. It hasn’t been the kind of every day monotonous do it all again the next day kind of living. We have experienced more love, more joy, more kindness, and more miracles than most people see in 100 years of living. That is abundance. I have a lot of games to attend, so I hope that abundant life continues for years to come.
But the greatest promise He gave was that when this life is over, there is more to come. Out with the abundant life and in with the eternal. The story will not end here. In fact it will not end, ever.
Joy in the midst. Anchored in HOPE.
And in the midst of my father-in-law’s journey – along the entirety of its way – joy paved his path, even/especially when happiness took a backseat to tears.
Joy to the World.
Maybe some seeing-beyond-the-moment practice TODAY – anchored in hope, eyes resting in joy – can make the singing of those words in a couple of weeks mean a little more than they might have in the past. Surely practicing it today can help me to see above the world’s chaos and spot pockets of peace – and then to see beyond myself. Because, it’s likely that someone will cross my path today who needs to be heard or seen.
I don’t know … just a thought.
Thanks for walking the road with me (and bearing with these LONG posts – my word!)
Note: Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts, was published in 1719. It was a hymn glorifying Christ’s triumphal return rather than a song celebrating his birth. Interestingly enough, the melody of the beloved song is believed to have originated from Handel – famed composer of “Messiah”.