Stuck. If there’s one word that captures how most of the world has felt for the last year, it’s stuck. First, the long months of complete lock-down in which we found ourselves isolated and separated like no generation ever. Weddings canceled. Funeral postponed. Graduations delayed. Churches closed. Schools moved home. Offices shut tight. Entertainment halted.
The trapped feelings flooded anew when COVID spiked in the fall. Closures and social distancing ramped up, and we groaned under its restrictive weight. Holiday plans changed. Travel crawled. For a season that was meant to bring good tidings and joy, Christmas threatened to topple the scale toward desolation and despondency.
But. As I watched from my couch and listened from my laptop, I witnessed the human spirit dig-in and dive deep, unwilling to surrender to this unseen enemy. I observed gift-giving with greater goodness and intention. I heard carol-laded praises for the King in the manger rising above the darkness. I noticed glittering globes on rooftops heralding to all who would look upon them to remember the season of hope.
I saw the world cling, desperately and defiantly, to joy.
In my own little corner of the world, an unassuming gift of an ornament adorned with the simple, stamped letters JOY awoke in me an awareness of how little joy I possessed. As for so many, 2020 had become about survival. And in that pursuit, I’d become a little emptier. A little hollower. Asleep. Numb. Stuck.
A text to a friend one early January morning opened a door to joy. In a moment of honesty and humility, we each admitted to having given in to insipid and tasteless lives that had long forgotten to savor our Savior. Our pact to pursue joy pushed us forward into the New Year with purpose. One I’ve begun to call the Journey of Joy.
I call it a journey because I recognize in my 50+ years on this earth that there’s no “arriving” at something so beautiful as joy and staying there. Seeking joy for my life will be a movement, a wandering, an intentional search through valleys and highways.
I’m leaning into the analogy heavily for this series because of its fluidity marked with purposefulness, its meanderings as well as its mountaintop moments, its obstacles and delays and unexpected revelations.
And, after the year we’ve had — aren’t we ready to TRAVEL?
Our wanderlust increases with every passing month — all the set-backs and disappointments, all the challenges of living in the muck of being stuck, all the looks of longing out the window toward the horizon that seems further away than ever before — and we know, we KNOW that we need to move forward. We need to gain ground or whither where we’re planted. We need to find a way to JOY or get swallowed up by boredom and mediocrity.
Realizing that I’m not alone in this desire for joy, I want to invite you along as a fellow globetrotter. I propose that we set out together as explorers on a mission of discovery. We’ll plot our course and set out over the next several weeks to traverse lands that have been uncharted or abandoned to all sorts of counterfeits of true joy.
This Journey of Joy will require us to meet weekly — a commitment to the cause, a pledge to plot this course together. Literally, we can chat via comments on this blog as explorations become revelations, as disappointments turn us toward discoveries, as we find ourselves being changed from within.
We’ll use the ultimate guidebook, the one written by the Author and Perfecter of our Faith. In its pages we’ll discover the ways of wisdom and paths that purvey purpose. So, have your Bible handy. I’d recommend bringing along a journal, as well. Documenting our discoveries will go a long way in anchoring us in the truths we uncover.
And, we’ll launch this expedition with more than good intentions. We step out in faith that we’ll stick to the path no matter what crosses it and trust our Tour Guide to keep pointing the way. We band together with the expectation of finding the illusive JOY.
It occurs to me that before we grab our passports and carry-ons, we ought to make sure we’re all on the same page about what joy is, and what it is not. If we’re to have success on this journey of ours, we need to be clear what it is we seek.
Before we move forward in our defining, let’s be clear. We don’t have to be depressed to need or want joy. Before my New Year revelation, I wouldn’t have said I was sad. Not even unhappy. Maybe it was more of missing a spark, that sense of aliveness that comes only with true joy. I’m sure we could draw a spectrum from despair to full joy, making our marks along the line — and we’d be scattered across its entirety. But we can all desire joy.
Joy is not circumstantial. We’re not setting out to find a giggle or smile or twinkle in the eye. Might some of those be side-benefits of finding true joy? Sure! But what we seek is much deeper than what our life’s circumstances produce.
So, what is true, Christian joy?
I’ve read a lot of definitions. Sure, it’s a deep gladness. But what does that mean, exactly? And how do we find it?
Some say joy is a choice. But I’m pretty sure joy is an emotion, something we feel, and most of my emotions (okay, all of them) come unbidden. Tears spring to my eyes when one of my sons walks through the door because I’m so happy to have him home. Anger rears its head when I’m treated unfairly. Sorrow sweeps over me when I see someone I love hurting. I don’t stop and choose those feelings any more than I can choose to feel joy.
Taking time to consider its opposite helps me identify a little more substance to this tiny, three-letter emotion. Tim Keller says that the opposite of joy is not sorrow but despair and hopelessness. One thought — feelings are rarely solitary. How many times have we felt anger and heartbreak? Or disappointment and hope? I can think of times where I had joy in the midst of sadness. Somehow they can occupy similar space in our souls.
But not despair. When we get to the place where despair has led us to hopelessness, it’s hard to feel anything else. We’ll dig a little into this idea in our travels toward joy, but for our purpose of offering definition, it helps to know the antonym of joy.
Probably my favorite definition of Christian joy comes from John Piper. (His blog post that unpacks this definition is worth a read):
“Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
So, we can say joy is an emotion that wells up in the depths of our souls. We can’t choose it or cause it to appear because it’s a gift, a fruit of the Spirit. And, we find joy within ourselves in those moments when the Spirit opens our eyes and hearts to the living work of Jesus through Scripture and the world around us.
Just jot that definition down in your journal. While you’re at it, write down anything else that stirred in you as you read this proposal. What questions do you have? What confused you? What hadn’t you thought of before? Then go pack.
But, before you run off, allow me to commission us for our Journey of Joy.
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the awakening happening within our hearts in this moment as we consider embarking on this quest for your joy — a joy that You offer to us freely. A joy that we can seek and find. I pray that You will continue to move in us, keeping alive in us this longing for more of You, for your true joy, so that we’ll not let go of this hope we’ve discovered today. Lord, wake us up to all You have for us. Prepare our hearts and minds for this journey we’re embarking on, giving us all the tools and truths we’ll need to keep moving forward on the path You lay out for us. Fan the flames of our hope so that we’ll pursue You and your joy everyday.
Lord, we pray over one another now this blessing:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
It’s in Your name we pray, Amen.
Okay — maybe write that verse down, too. I think it’ll be our go-to power verse for this trip. God will be our hope. And as we trust Him, our peace and joy will overflow by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I hope you’re in! I hope you’re saying yes to this Journey of Joy!
So excited to travel with you, Shelley
- Traveling is always more fun with friends, so be sure to pass this Proposal along, inviting others to join us! You can share on social media, copy and paste the link in a direct message to someone, or just tell them to check out shelleyjohnson.me.
- Sharing with one another will spur us to keep moving forward. And as we speak aloud (in writing) our thoughts, experiences, challenges, and success, we encourage others in their journeys. We also get to experience the JOY of celebrating the successes! So — please, comment below!
- Packing List:
- A journal. Journaling really will be a valuable practice in our travels because it gives us space to document and explore the deeper things. If you’d like a new journal, I found one on Amazon that fits our theme!*
- A Bible. Scripture will be a regular part of our experiences here. I’ll share from the Word as I find nuggets of wisdom and hope, and I invite you to do the same.
- Looking for Fun — we want our journey to be full of discovery and FUN! Stories that make us laugh. Sights that make us giggle. People who amaze us. Words that inspire us.
- One element of fun I’ll lace into each post every week is an “egg hunt.” I’ll weave a travel word that captures the heart of each week’s theme. Have fun hunting! (Did you find today’s?)
- Playlist — and of course we have to have music! I’ve created a Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify that I’ll share here each week. If you like it, you can “follow” the playlist so it shows up in your Spotify library. I’ve tried to order the songs to reflect our journey. I hope there are songs and lyrics that inspire and encourage you along your travels.
HERE WE GO!
*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.