BSSM 1.8 - JOY
May 30, 2020
Hello friends. Welcome to my eighth and final instalment of first year BSSM recap blogs. I’m here to talk about April. And I’m here to talk about JOY.
I’ve experienced a lot of Jesus over the past year, in fresh and unexpected ways. I’ve seen Him from new perspectives, with new lenses, through new mediums of communication, and He just keeps getting more beautiful.
But there’s one particular experience I had yet to undergo. That is, at least, until last month.
Last month I got hit with joy.
Now joy is a bit of an interesting beast. If we start with the dictionary, we find that joy is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” I would hope everyone can relate to that.
Perhaps a particularly meaningful gift, or being reunited family members after a long time apart, or maybe something as simple as watching a gentle snowfall begin. Joy contains that feeling of happiness, of pleasure, of utter satisfaction.
But, I would argue, it’s different. Yes, it’s related, but it’s also decisively, importantly different.
It feels a bit nuanced and hard to pin down, but how I have come to think about it is that happiness is rational. It’s expected. It has a defined cause, and an outcome. You are happy because you got a job promotion, or entered into an exciting new relationship. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with this emotion, but defining such feelings as joy, well… I would argue it just sells joy a little short. It pulls meaning out of it, makes it a little shallower.
Because while happiness is grounded in cold hard fact, joy, I propose, frequently doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Joy dances around the living room when you find out not that you got a promotion, but that you lost your job. Joy shouts in thankfulness in the midst of grieving a loved one’s passing. It stops to smile up at the sky when the world around it is running around in sheer panic from, say, a global pandemic.
Joy is irrational and illogical. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to.
Now I don’t believe the point of joy is to stick one’s head in the sand and ignore the circumstances. I think joy simply acknowledges greater, more authoritative circumstances. Truth beyond what we can see in the natural.
If we move from the dictionary to the Bible we find some interesting discussions on joy. To start with, the Bible refers to the joy of the Lord being strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and says that we should consider falling into trials to be joy (James 1:2). We are also urged to display joy in everything, in every situation and circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
So yes, it might be said that joy is in part a kind of wrapper around happiness, but it’s much more than that. It’s more than a reasonable emotion. In many ways, it’s detached from circumstance. It survives and even thrives in the midst of heartache and pain. We’re invited to choose joy when happiness makes the least sense.
While happiness tends to be a reaction to events, joy is different. Joy is a choice.
The Bible implores us to count hard seasons of life as joy, to make our joy obvious in everything. That tells me two things: first, such a choice is not in our nature. Otherwise, there would be no need to bring it up. Second, it assures me it is possible with God. This choice isn’t some fantasy, carrot-on-a-stick type of deal. This is real, and it’s possible. It’s possible to choose joy, this irrational strength and happiness, regardless of the circumstances.
So joy is a choice, and it’s one we get to make. We get to choose the illogical, the stuff that doesn’t make sense from an earthly perspective. We get to choose the joy that has a higher perspective.
We choose it.
Or at least, that’s what happens most of the time.
Other times, it seems, it chooses us.
Now, I had seen this phenomenon, what I’ve come to call getting “hit by joy,” a couple of times growing up, but it kicked into overdrive when I reached BSSM, and, full disclosure, it totally freaked me out at first. If you’re wondering what it looks like, it generally involves a person laughing uncontrollably without any sort of stimuli. And while I would say joy is usually a deliberate, intentional choice we make, in this scenario, the only part the target really has to play in it is not resisting. In this case, it seems, joy chooses us.
It completely bypasses logic. There is no funny joke being told, no physical intoxication, no external triggers whatsoever. Instead, this illogical joy seems to reach into the very soul and spirit of a person and evoke pure, uninhibited pleasure.
This is getting hit by joy. Or, perhaps more accurately, plugging in more directly to the Source of it. At this point, it’s not a choice beyond mere agreement.
I saw many of my friends getting “hit by joy,” and quickly got over my initial shock when I saw genuine, irreversible change taking place in some of the targets. Pretty quickly, I wanted to experience this bizarre but attractive state of illogical happiness. I desired it, but I also made a very firm and intentional decision that it wasn’t what I was chasing. I didn’t go to California for some sort of Spiritual experience. I went for Jesus.
And so, the months went by, and friends around me would often get “hit by joy.” I can honestly say I didn’t become bitter or frustrated, but the desire remained without any visible fruit.
Then came April. The last month. The home stretch. The finish line. That final sprint.
As with most schools in the world, we had moved to online-only. School was still great, but staring at a screen for hours on end was undeniably draining, exhausting, and strangely frustrating at times. It took extra effort to stay engaged, to “lean in,” to drain out every last little drop of goodness from this school year.
Given everything our class had gone through, I think it’s safe to say there was a real temptation for must of us to start coasting. To relax. To appreciate what we’d been given and just make it to the end so we could all go home.
But right in the middle of April, during one of our digital “Revival Group” meetings, I felt God remind me that school wasn’t over. He still had plans. And He’s the kind of God that can take the last two weeks of school and do something truly special with them.
Then, a few minutes later, still in our meeting, I started laughing. No one had done or said anything particularly funny. There was just a strange, warm, happy feeling bubbling up inside of me that I felt compelled to release as laughter, and I wasn’t about to try to fight it back down.
Within a minute or two I was sitting on my floor with my roommate, both of us just giggling and laughing at nothing. I think “swimming in Father God’s delight” is about the best description I can come up with, though it still doesn’t feel adequate. It was just pure, random, unexpected happiness.
Finally, here it was. After eight and a half months of school, two weeks before our last day of classes, suddenly, I had been hit by joy. This illogical, irrational happiness that bubbles up from Jesus without rhyme or reason.God’s kindness still blows my mind.
I left that meeting and ended that day brimming with thankfulness but also anticipation. What might God do next? After all, we still had almost two full weeks left!
I had my answer a few days later when I was washing dishes and started cracking up again. Then, driving to the beach about a week after the first event, that same roommate and I again started laughing at nothing as we drove through the hills West of Redding. Yet again, I had been hit by joy.
I can’t explain this stuff. It doesn’t make sense. But I don’t think joy expects to be explained. It just expects to be enjoyed and appreciated.
And again, I believe joy is often a choice on our part. A choice to lean in to God’s strength that comes from it, and a choice to agree with a higher and happier perspective.
But every now and then, it turns out, we just might get hit by joy. Joy never really makes sense, but it feels a little extra wild when we don’t even see it coming for us.
But I'll be a target for joy anytime.