Joy is such a loaded word. It’s one of those words which we say endless times, but often don’t fully understand. We often mistake happiness for joy – when they are, in fact, two very different concepts. Happiness comes from the word happen-stance, which is linked to circumstance. Happiness is about the present. Being happy is about a feeling about something which is happening.
Joy, however is something different. It’s not an emotion. It goes far deeper than that.
When my Mum died in 2000, it was the worst day, the most painful experience of my life. And as anyone who has experienced grief knows, you feel a tidal wave of conflicting emotions. Anger at the person leaving you. I had that for a short time. Then there’s the pain of knowing they aren’t coming back, that there is suddenly a space in your life which nothing else can fill. Eventually you have to come to an acceptance the person is gone, and move forward with your life.
This process took years for me. And all the while, I was feeling nothing good could ever come of losing my mum. What possible good could come from losing someone I was so close to, who loved me so much?
As time went on however, I noticed something. The anger, the hurt and the bitterness began to subside. As I received counselling and prayer, and time passed, I began to reflect on the good things my mum had brought to my life. How she had shaped who I was. The intimate experiences we had as mother and son. Her fun, her free spirit and her immense love and compassion.
Then I began to look at who I was, and the shape of my life. I’d become more independent. And because I’d been left a two bed maisonette, I’d been able to host a church acquaintance when they got back too late from football matches, have deep conversations with him, and ultimately become best friends. And he had introduced me to the church which changed my life and I’ve been part of for 11 years. Losing mum had caused me to question my faith and ultimately deepen it, discover a bigger, wider and more intimate view of God.
And the truth is, none of this would have occurred if my Mum had lived.
As I realised this, I felt a deep sense of what I can only call joy. I wasn’t happy – my Mum was still dead, still gone from my life, and I still miss her. The pain is still there. But there was this sense that God had redeemed this. That it wasn’t for nothing. And also a sense of gratitude for all my Mum was, that I’d had her for 23 years, which is longer than many do. And a joy that even in her death, she had shaped my life in ways I could never have imagined.
And that is joy for me. It’s acknowledging the reality of our lives, acknowledging all our experiences, and somehow trusting, or even knowing on a very deep level, that there is good even in that. Knowing that God will take care of us. That He’s been with us all the way through even the darkest times. And remembering and celebrating the good, even in the midst of our pain.
Kay Warren’s definition of joy sums this up perfectly:
“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
Joy is laughing with tears in our eyes. Celebrating, but weeping. Trusting and worshipping when there seems no reason to. Seeing the thin grain of light in the darkness.
And joy is when walking the valley, seeing the sunlight piercing the mountains.
James Prescott is a writer, author, coach & editor from Sutton, near London. He’s author of the e-book ‘Unlocking Creativity’ & editor of ‘Christian Writer’ the magazine of the Association of Christian Writers. James is passionate about creativity, identity & spirituality, and blogs regularly at jamesprescott.co.uk & has a weekly podcast, ‘James Talks’ which you can follow on iTunes. James is a big movie buff & has a not-so-secret love of lip sync battles.