If you look around my office, you will see a few important things: Drawings from my kids, pictures of my family, gifts from important people over the years, reminders of important times in my life. I have artifacts of joy: actual, physical reminders of experiences of joy.
The things that bring us joy usually find a way of becoming tangible reminders. We want to keep joy in front of us.
So as we get into this post, I want you to think about the things that bring you joy for a second. Who are the people, what are the things, when are the times when your heart feels like bursting because it is so full? Hang on to that, we will come back to it.
I struggle with how to articulate joy. Every year I know this post is coming. And I never know what to write.
Not because I don’t believe in or experience joy. I just think we often talk about joy in poor ways.
Sometimes we talk about joy and happiness as if they are the same thing. So we equate joy with getting what we want. Therefore joy is entirely dependent on our circumstances. If things are bad, there is no joy.
Other times, we talk about joy as “positive thinking” or a way to avoid dealing with difficult things. “Don’t worry about _____. Just focus on the good things.” And while there is some truth to focusing on the positive, we cannot do so at the expense of dealing with real suffering and hurt.
We need better ways to talk about joy. And in 2015, we don’t have to look much further than Pixar. Plus, I felt like I couldn’t talk about joy without referencing the movie Inside Out. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Although, fair warning, I may have cried more in this movie than I ever have in a film.
Inside Out brings to life the emotions going on inside the brain of a young girl. They are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Joy leads the group. Joy always wants to make sure Riley (the girl whose head they are in) is happy and joyful and never fears pain.
So Joy avoids letting sadness do her work at all costs. (Spoiler ahead) What Joy discovers by the end of the movie is that Joy and Sadness are not opposites or working against each other. As a matter of fact, they work together. Sadness has a place, and often when Sadness gets to do what she is supposed to, joy is what follows. And what happens when the emotions begin to work together, is Riley grows.
It is a beautiful portrayal of what happens in real life. We try to keep the difficult things at bay, or avoid them. But when we let them in, we often find ourselves on our way to joy and growth.
My favorite scene is at the end of the movie. Riley has moved to a new city and Joy has been keeping her from being sad about it. But when Sadness is allowed to work, Riley starts crying in front of her parents. Her mom and dad get down on their knees and just hold her. And in that moment, Joy shows up. (Seriously I cried just writing that. Go see it.)
In that scene, we see how joy really works. Joy is not avoiding the bad things, it is finding the warm embrace of those who love you in the midst of the difficulty.
Like when a friend comes to sit with you when you are hurting or sick.
Or when you don’t know what direction to go and are confused and overwhelmed and someone takes your hand and reminds you they will be there no matter what happens.
Or you have had a horrible day and you just sit and hold your kids.
Anytime you are hurting, and someone comes and is simply with you, they become an artifact of joy.
This is how God comes near. In Advent we reflect on God becoming flesh. Sometimes that flesh is a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, or a child. God comes near. The circumstances may not change, but joy is still present, available, and tangible. We hold on to the things that bring us joy. Those people are artifacts of joy. Actual, tangible expressions of the source of all joy.
So go back to the things that bring you joy. In the difficult moments, what do we want to focus on? What is more important?
Is it the hurt and confusion? Or is it going to be the things which bring us joy?
Because the things that bring us joy often teach us what really matters in life. They help us sort out our priorities and understand what has true power in our lives.
The things that bring us joy point us to the source of joy. When we are paying attention to the source we recognize that Joy is always available. Those artifacts may come and go but Joy is always present and available.