I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart this year. It’s the first time I’ve experienced something like it. And weirdly enough, it keeps cropping back up like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole—even in the midst of Coronavirus and death.
Such an admission might have once flooded me with shame. After all, joy is a basic requirement of being a good Christian, right? And yet, if I’m honest with myself, my life has lacked joy among all other emotions. Although I don’t always have a name for them and my face doesn’t always show it, my internal array of feelings can resemble the emoji usage of a preteen. Happiness, I’ve experienced in abundance. Exhilaration, satisfaction, pleasure, wonder, and bliss—sometimes all at once—have visited me throughout my life, along with their less-desired counterparts: boredom, restlessness, discomfort, confusion, and grief.
I’ve experienced a lot of grief recently, in fact, as my paternal grandmother died alone in a nursing home in April, a causality not of Covid-19, but of the isolation it has bred out of necessity. Nearby family members negotiated who could attend the graveside service with its maximum of ten people. A cousin kindly filmed the eulogy and took a couple of pictures of grandma in the casket for all the rest of us scattered across the U.S. and abroad who couldn’t be there to say goodbye. Then, my last remaining grandparent—my mother’s father—died two weeks later and a new wave of grief compounded the first.
I don’t relate to Bible verses enjoining me to rejoice. I console myself that joy is a fruit of the Spirit so it’s his job to manifest joy in my life. Even David puts the impetus on God when he begs to have the “joy of your salvation” restored to him in Psalm 51:12. Most days it feels like I’m making an excuse, though, so I double-down and tell myself that joy probably isn’t the pinnacle of emotions. Furthermore, is joy even an emotion or is it more a state of being? A condition of the soul? Based on what I’ve gleaned from nearly forty years of sermons and Christian culture, many people believe joy is an intense contentedness welling up from some deep place inside.
If that’s the case, then a lack of joy might be a problem.
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