“Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy.” – Tim Hansel
On a most basic level, pain exists to signal to the brain that something is damaged. We have all experienced pain and everyone who will ever exist will experience pain: The pain of falling off a bike when learning how to ride it. The pain of slamming your head against the cold wet ice after losing your balance while skating. The pain of getting your fingers caught in a closing door. The pain of being ignored. The pain of being insulted, teased, or looked down upon. The pain of being disappointed by someone you love, disappointing said person, or even losing the person entirely. The loss of a loved one, family, house, dream job, dear friend, child etc..
In each of these occasions, the pain tells us something is damaged. Whether it be your knees, your head, your ankle, your finger, your own self image, your self esteem, your relationships, financial security, health, family. Whether the suffering we experience is physical, emotional, or even spiritual, it points to a need for healing, but that healing is rarely, if ever, instantaneous or immediate. Healing takes time, and when we are dealing with our deep emotional wounds that require the love and healing touch of God the Father, it takes God’s time.
“…In God’s time…”
Now let’s be honest. If you have ever heard someone use this phrase (which you likely have otherwise you just did!) then you know they were probably trying to convey that it would be an ambiguously long time…for you to heal..or not, hence “ambiguous”…
So then how exactly are we to act as we go on with our daily lives whilst experiencing these wounds on our hearts? The answer we seem to hear as Christians is simple: Gaio.
“Gaio & Happ”
Gaio is the greek root word of what ends up being joy and Happ is the Old Norse root for happiness. Why do I bring this up? Because if we look at the definitions for these words through their roots, there is an important distinction. You can go ahead and look these up yourself, but essentially the difference is that the root of the word joy always seems to point back to “great pleasure, rejoicing, happiness” while Happ, (again, the root of happiness), is specifically defined as “chance, fortune, good luck”.
I believe that many of us, and I will be the first to raise my hand, can sometimes confuse joy and happiness. For myself, when I read about the saints continuing to choose joy and praising God in the bleakest of circumstances, they make it clear that choosing joy is something we have to do no matter what is happening externally. Joy is something we choose even when experiencing deep, true suffering. Just like we saw in the words above, true joy is not about chance or luck or anything external. I think most of us would agree that this is clear enough, but it is at this point I sometimes find myself asking, “How exactly then do I choose this joy?”
I do not believe we do this by pretending we are not suffering and putting on a fake smile while suppressing our feelings. Let us remember that Jesus himself wept when he heard of the death of Lazarus, the loss of his friend. Jesus experienced suffering and it showed. What we did not see was Jesus dwelling on this pain and falling into a melancholic stupor. Jesus did not fall into misery, and neither did many of the Saints in circumstances where we would expect anyone else to.
I think that where we falter is in our lack of surrender. Allow me to explain. I cannot begin to tell about how many times I have fallen short because I have been trying to create my own strength, create my own hope, create my own joy. We fall into the trap that we have to be the ones to somehow create this joy out of our very will simply by making the choice. Let us remember, though, that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and as Pope Francis says,
“Who gives us joy is the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit himself who guides us; he is the author of joy, the creator of joy. And this joy in the Spirit gives us true Christian freedom. Without joy, we Christians cannot become free; we become slaves of our sadness. The great Paul VI said that we cannot carry the Gospel forward with Christians who are sad, disheartened, discouraged. We cannot do it.”
Joy, true joy, comes from the Holy Spirit, not any luck or earthly fortunes. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Our faith, our ability to love, our desire for God and all else that is good comes from God himself. Like all things which are gifts from the Lord, we cannot receive them if we are looking elsewhere for them. We will not receive them if we are too busy trying to fill the hurt space with a sad excuse for joy (also known as happiness) that we attempt to create ourselves. We do this by continuing to look for ways in which to escape our pain, whether it be looking forward to whatever comes next in life and moving on, or distracting ourselves with food, the company of others, media, or drugs until we collapse in our puddle of ‘happiness’. Sometimes this takes up days and years and even decades of our lives. In this, we avoid joy and choose the option of misery. Once again, I think a lot of us would agree that this makes sense, yet we need to ask ourselves a question: “How much am I relying on happiness versus joy right now? What external ‘fortunes’ am I clinging to?”
We constantly attempt to control our lives and our state of being, and it won’t be until we surrender that we will become more receptive to the joy the Father offers us. The joy that does not rely on the chance of our world.
You are not responsible for your joy, but you are responsible in asking for it.
The Father desires joy for us but also for those around us. As Pope Francis states, we cannot spread the gospel in sadness but with joy. As Christians, everything we do must be for His kingdom and choosing joy is an integral piece in building that kingdom. In order to truly choose, we need to choose to surrender and allow Him to fill us. One will only ever experience the extent of joy to the extent we surrender our desire to build that joy for ourselves. We must sit back and realize that nothing we do can bring us this joy. Nothing except asking for the Lord to give it to you.
“Lord Jesus, grant me your joy not for myself but for those around me.” -Anonymous