More Than Happy
I grew up believing that joy was the imperious, sophisticated older sister of happiness. Joy was something you grew into, when you knew better.
As a result, I was afraid to be happy. I was serious about my faith, serious about my life, I didn’t want to mess around with anything so flippant as happiness.
So I pursued joy, using the definitions I had been given. Joy wasn’t as fleeting as happiness, and it was often the result of troubles and tribulation. I vowed to become unflappable, unshakable in my “joy.” When I was lonely, and, most notably, when I’d been dumped, I remember saying: “I’m experiencing so much joy in this situation.” Joy was what I called it when I was keeping my disappointments under the surface, shielding others from my pain. Nothing disturbed the surface of those waters, but I knew the difference.
Last summer, I was in a toxic environment which was poisoning the way I looked at the world. I woke up each morning dreading the day in front of me. On the way to work, I’d fantasize about being in a car accident, so that I wouldn’t have to go. I was miserable and no one knew.
In my prayers, I told God that I knew that life was hard. I told Him that I knew that Heaven was wonderful, worth all of the awful things on earth.
There’s truth in this, of course. Life is hard, Heaven is wonderful. But I was sounding a lot like my friend Martha, weeping over the death of her brother. Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened and she responds practically: “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” Jesus answers her personally: “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” Moments before, Martha has confessed Jesus to be the resurrection and life, the Son of God, boldly agreeing that those who believe in Him will never die. She had the future well in hand, she knew that she would see her brother again, she just didn’t think it would be on this day.
I’m still not sure what made me share what I was thinking and feeling with a small group of friends. I just know that there came a day when I couldn’t take it any more. I was frightened of my ever-increasing thoughts of suicide. I needed help.
The people I let in saw what I couldn’t see. They saw a way out. They helped Jesus open the tomb I’d locked myself inside, waiting to die. They watched Him call out to me, asking me to come out.
Since then, I’ve been questioning my beliefs about happiness and joy. It amazes me how often I forget that the Bible wasn’t originally written in English. I decided to do a word study.
The word “joy” in the Greek, is also the word for delight. Sometimes, it’s translated as gladness. I was surprised. Were we talking about the same word here? I thought about all of the verses I’d read through the lens of my baggage about joy. I thought about how long I’d thought that God didn’t want me to be happy. But delight? Delight sounded a lot like what happiness felt like.
I searched happiness next. I don’t think I’d ever really registered before that happy also means blessed. As I read through the verses for both words I saw a significant difference. Happiness and blessing were usually observed from the outside, joy and delight were felt.
Joy, transliterated from the Greek is chara, pronounced just like my name. All this time, as I’ve been fighting joy, it has been inside me.
Life is not easy, I know, and there will be times of disappointment. Heaven is a very real hope that gets me through the hard and the wonderful days. But little by little, I’m learning not to be afraid of being happy. I’m learning to hug the people I love closely, reveling in the moments spent with them, I’m learning to savor the taste of a good meal, or a good wine. I’m learning to lean into delight.