I can be pretty deadpan (or ugly deadpan for that matter). In fact, I’m so subtle with my humor sometimes that I have learned to quickly let people know I’m joking. When I do, I destroy the power my joke had, but I hopefully keep my audience from being angry with me or thinking less of me. I suppose it’s worth the cost of a joke to ensure tranquility. But I digress.
My deadpan manner isn’t just my sense of humor. Since high school I’ve often said I default to an emotional midpoint, somewhere between a peaceful dispassion and a melancholy ambivalence. Some situations simply don’t warrant a passionate response.
What do you think of the new throw pillows, Chip?
Um, good, I think.
What do you think we should do for our office party, Chip?
How do you feel about periwinkle?
Um, I feel…supportive?
That’s not to say I’m not passionate about things. I am very passionate when I have formed an opinion. I mean, when I’ve taken the time to craft my opinion about something I’m going to try to convince you. This used to get me in trouble when I was young. I was brash and really obnoxious. It’s no wonder my wife didn’t date me until I settled down.
Where I Fall Short
However, whether it’s my static dispassion or my enflamed enthusiasm, where I’ve constantly fallen short is joy. My demeanor when I’m disengaged tells others that I don’t care. But when I’m engaged it says I care so much and you have to care as much as I do or you’re either stupid or dead. (Ok, I’m a little kinder than that in person, but my younger obnoxious self would have agreed with that sentiment.)
My lack of joy was so palpable that after giving a particularly heavy sermon a couple years ago, I was pulled aside by a parishioner who thanked me for preaching. He knew it took a lot of preparation. But then he asked me, “Chip, where’s your joy?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. What did he mean? Of course I’m joyful. Can’t you see how joyful I am? I’m the joyfullest, the joyesty joyfulness of joy. I’m a bright ray of joyful sunshine. Since he was obviously not dead, I wrote him off as stupid.
But he struck a nerve. Why did he think I didn’t have joy? What did that mean that I didn’t seem to have joy? What was wrong with me?
Leaning Toward the Negative
Joy is difficult for me. It doesn’t come naturally, since I’m not a bubbly person. In fact, I tend to look at bubbly people like they’re not all there or at least like they’re hiding how they really feel. I tend to think their bubbly persona is just a mask. I’m not alone, either. There is a tremendous negativity bias that has been studied extensively. It’s why we tend to assume stock market predictions of collapse are more believable than stock market surges. It’s why we see a preponderance of negative political ads. And it’s also why, in general, negative people are seen as more trustworthy.
Church guy hit me pretty hard with this, so I determined I would get to the bottom of this joy thing, and I learned 3 very simple things about joy.
Lesson #1—Joy Is a Reaction
I considered calling this lesson, Joy Is a Result or Joy Is a Consequence, but I didn’t want to make it seem like joy is inevitable. It’s not. This is not a quaint little math formula where X + Y = Joy. To have joy we must feel joyful. And that looks different for everyone.
When I embarked on this journey of discovering and cultivating joy in my life and in my family, I was in the mathematical mindset. I must have sufficient joyful things happen on the left side of the equation to yield joy on the right side.
What I failed to realize is that the Bible is very clear that joy is the result of a life lived in relationship with God, and relationship with anyone is not math. Here are some examples:
- God gives joy to those who please him—Ecclesiastes 2:26
- In God’s presence is fullness of joy—Psalm 16:11
- Finding God’s Kingdom brings life-changing joy—Matthew 13:44
- When we weep God gives us joy—Psalm 30:5 and Psalm 126:5
So in order to be joyful I have to be in the right place, and that’s in God’s presence. Joy from God is both gracious and surprising. Either way, it’s not a balanced equation. It comes as a result of relationship.Joy from God is both gracious and surprising. It’s not a balanced equation. It comes as a result of relationship. Click To Tweet
Lesson #2—Joy Is a Reward
This is almost a subset of Lesson #1, but I think it’s helpful to see them as separate. The first lesson can come without any movement on my part except as a result of choosing God over the world. The second lesson is a tighter circle within Lesson #1.
We must start with relationship with God, being in his presence. The joy that comes from that comes much like a sudden punchline. It can take us off guard, suddenly, with no warning. Joy as a reward is more predictable.
When we begin to choose God in our everyday circumstances, we begin to move from a casual relationship with God to a more intimate relationship with our Father. Joy becomes more of a disposition than an emotion. The Bible has several examples of this intimacy and how it brings joy:
- God grows joy in us when the Holy Spirit works in us—Galatians 5:22
- We consume God’s word in order to share it, and God gives us joy—Jeremiah 15:16
- When we teach peace (Proverbs 12:20), act justly (Proverbs 21:15), or speak wisely (Proverbs 15:23) God gives us joy.
The daily grind of working out our salvation is what prepares our hearts for joy. It’s the predictability of tilling and planting yielding a harvest. The hard work of life, when done in right relationship with God, yields the fruit of spiritual joy.
But joy is so much more than happiness in the same way that love is more than attraction.Joy is more than happiness in the same way that love is more than attraction. Click To Tweet
Lesson #3—Joy Is an Action
The third and final lesson, the inner circle is that joy is something we do. Throughout scripture God’s people are commanded to rejoice. We are to rejoice in worship, rejoice in suffering, and rejoice always. To rejoice because of and in spite of our feelings is the same exercise of faith that loving is. We don’t always feel loving and we don’t always feel joyful. When we choose to act out that love or that joy, that shows the Spirit is in us.
So how does all this apply to my family? Frankly, my lack of joy has been such a burden to my family. I never realized how gloomy I am naturally. Our senior pastor used to call it the Spirit of Eeyore, a perpetual lack of joy. When this stupid parishioner (ok he’s not stupid) called me out on it, I realized that I needed to change.
Now I’m choosing joy, and my family is benefiting. I bought books to teach me how to be funnier (who knew that was even possible…and by possible I mean writing a book like that, not me getting funnier.) I started working out (my mood has improved drastically). I cut out the life-sucking things, and I’m investing my time into life-giving things. And last, I am trying to rewire my brain to choose joy. (As an aside, you should check out this post from my wife on this same topic.)
When I started choosing joy, my family began following suit. Our kids are thriving. We’ve seen growth especially in our oldest who is such a mature 10-year-old. Our marriage is better than ever. Our future, despite the many question marks, seems more exciting and less looming. We’ve been given a hope and a future. We’ve been blessed beyond all measure!
I would be remiss not to mention that there is a final joy beyond all experiences we’ve had thus far. It is the culmination of our lives on earth. It is the finale. Until then, I’m going to perk up and enjoy the life God has given me.
But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. And then your master will say to you, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave. Enter the joy of your master.” (1 Peter 4:13) and (Matthew 25:21)
How have you thought through joy in your own life? Please comment below. As always, please subscribe to continue getting encouraging posts from me, and be on the look out for my debut children’s picture book Under the Dancing Tree in 2019 from Elk Lake Publishing.
If you want to check out another great post on joy, check out Yvonne Morgan’s post Fruits of the Spirit – Joy and Peace and follow her on Twitter @YMMAuthor.