Happiness Vs. Joy

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.

In Everything Gives Thanks?

Yesterday in America, Thanksgiving Day was being celebrated across the nation.  For many it’s their favorite holiday.  It’s a day set aside each year to specifically take the time to be thankful for the blessings in our lives.  Yesterday, I was particularly reflecting on people who have significantly touched my life.  It was easy to be thankful for the deep love of dear friends.

No doubt, there was a great list of what people were thankful for yesterday, all over America.  Some may have been thankful for good health, or the nearness of loved ones.  Others may have been thankful they have a roof over their heads, or food on their table.  It’s natural to be truly thankful for any of the above; the gratefulness flows from our hearts without reserve.  All the above make being thankful rather easy.  But what about the hard things?

What if your health isn’t good at all?  What if loved ones are absent from your table?  What if having a roof over your head is an uncertainty month by month?  What if you rarely have a variety of things to eat and going to bed hungry isn’t unusual?  What then?  How can we be thankful for situations in life when they are less than pleasant?

There’s a tough verse in the Bible, found in I Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”  This is one of those verses that we often wish wasn’t there.  We would rather read and meditate upon the “nice” verses; the ones that make us feel all loved and hopeful.

When our worlds are turning upside down, reading “in everything give thanks” does not particularly cause fuzzy, warm feelings to appear in our hearts.  We know God is love.  We know God cares about everything happening in our lives.  Why then, does He give us such a command, that seems to be rather heartless in times of great emotional difficulty?

You see, it’s all about the perspective.  Some read this verse and mistakenly believe they are to try and conjure up thankfulness for bad things that happen.  Good news — that’s not what God is saying at all.  We know that by what the rest of the Bible reveals to us about the loving heart of our Father God.  The perspective here is not the bad that happens; but rather, the goodness of God that is with us when turmoil comes knocking on our door.

When sickness comes upon us or a loved one, we don’t rejoice in the disease; we rejoice that God promised to be with us through it.  When loved ones have passed away, leaving an emptiness in our homes, we don’t rejoice in death that took them from us; we rejoice that our God is the greatest comfort.  We rejoice that He holds all our tears near to His own heart.  He cares deeply for the grieving hearts of all who hurt.  When lack of finances makes us wonder how we will pay the bills tomorrow, we don’t rejoice in the poverty of the moment; we rejoice in our Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  We rejoice that He promised to make a way in the wilderness.  We rejoice that He promises to be our everything, through anything.

When we truly know Jesus, then no matter what turmoil or grief comes our way, we know the truth of what Jesus said in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you.”  If He is with us always, being our everything to get through anything — then of a certainty — we can lift up our faces toward our Father, and we can “give thanks in everything.”