There is a game that Kyrgyz children play in which they use the dried vertebrae of sheep. The children squat in a circle on the ground and take turns rolling or throwing these vertebrae much like one rolls dice. Each bone is shiny from its use. I haven’t fully understood the object of the game; but one thing is certain, the children love to play. They shout and jump and laugh. It’s such a simple pleasure that brings about much happiness.
Every culture knows how to find happiness. In poorer countries happiness is found in the simple things of life because simplicity is all there is to find. Nonetheless, it is indeed happiness that lives in the hearts of those playing with old bones, riding horses, cooking simple meals, or among a group of women washing clothes together in a river. In the western world, finding happiness comes in different shapes: a new car, a trip to the beach, a hike in the mountains, a dream job, a house, new shoes, lunch with a friend. The list of what brings happiness goes on and on. Pursuing happiness is a desirable thing and it’s especially good that it can be found whether rich or poor. Happiness comes whether one is playing with old bones or a nintendo — but what about joy? Can anyone find joy?
There is a great difference between happiness and joy. You see, happiness depends on outward stimuli whereas joy depends completely on something inward. The things that make us happy can be seen, but what makes us joyful is invisible yet it is present.
Have you known people who experience a great tragedy, but amidst their tears and sorrow there is a calm in the storm? Life gives us all sorrow, grief, and disappointment. No one is exempt. Some fall apart in the difficult times. It may take them a long time to emotionally recover; sadly, some never recover at all. Others can experience the same difficulties; yet even in their tears and broken hearts, they come through stronger with a peace, and yes, a joy that is ever present in their eyes, sustaining them in their hearts.
How can this be? Why do some survive life’s hurts with calm and inner joy while others are destroyed? The answer is simple yet poignant: it’s a matter of what we cling to in the tempest of life’s raging seas. Some fall to the decks sensing no hope at all; others cling to the unseen Creator of the universe knowing that His love and strength will get them through any storm. One has no hope; despair takes over. The other has all hope; joy abides.
The truth of the promise found in Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us of the hope that can come to any of us: “…’I will never leave you,” God says. ‘I will never abandon you.’ Therefore we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will have no fear.’…” Another comforting and unshakable truth of God is this: “…Weeping may last through the night but joy comes in the morning.” There we have it: no matter the sorrow or the depth of grief or the piercing hurt, joy comes in the morning and all because God is with us.
Obtaining happiness is a wonderful thing. We all enjoy the circumstances of life that make us happy; but when happiness subsides, we can thank Father that His joy lives on and on. It is eternal. Darkness cannot hide it. Pain cannot destroy it. It is the joy of God that surpasses anything that happiness can bring or that sorrow can give. Pursue happiness alone and joy will elude us. Pursue God and joy lives in us.