‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.’ Philippians 4:4
But how can we always be joyful? What about the times when I feel so miserable it seems like there’s a heavy weight in my chest, and I’m closer to crying than smiling? What about the times when I’m just too tired to feel anything but numb? What if I’m just not feeling happy/joyful?
I think some really holy people can always feel genuine joy: considering at every moment the blessings of God, and His great glory, makes them always feel happy. But I am far from holy! I’ve learned that things, sometimes godly and sometimes worldly, can make me very happy for minutes, hours, even occasionally days. But, sooner or later, I return to the usual oscillating state of fairly often happy, more often neutral, sometimes unhappy.
I was talking with one of my friends about [holy] joy recently, and he said he thinks it’s more of an attitude/action than an emotion. And immediately that resonated with me as true. And not only true, but immensely helpful as a spiritual practice.
It’s been a difficult few weeks, but I’ve been trying, through everything, to have an attitude of holy joy. What does this mean? I think an attitude of joy means thanking God for everything he sends, whether or not it’s what I hoped for, whether or not it makes me feel happy, whether or not I can immediately see the benefit in it. It means thanking God for things as important as my loving family and friends, and for things as little and wonderful as sunny days and the beautiful crocuses on my street. It also means thanking God for things that hurt as much as occasions of isolation, rejection, loss, failure, and unkindness, and for little irritations like buses so full that I have to stand. It means trusting God that everything he sends is for the best, even when I can’t see the purpose in it, and when it seems to me that something different would be much better. It means not complaining, aloud or in my head, at trials and tribulations. It means doing all this even when my chest feels heavy, my body tired, and there are almost tears in my eyes. And yes, it is so hard; or at least, I have found it so. And yes, sometimes I have failed.
But this attitude of joy is not something we can achieve alone. We need the grace of God. The most important thing in attaining an attitude of joy is asking God for it, repeatedly. Asking him to give us his strength, for in our weakness will we will fail. And trusting that, whatever we face, God’s strength will be enough. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)
It’s often not easy for me, but trying to have an attitude of holy joy is helping my faith and my life so much, at a time when things have been more difficult than usual. I now understand the difference between feeling happy and being joyful. The former, for me, is ephemeral and hard to control; but the latter, by the grace of God, can be achieved always. I think striving for an attitude of holy joy immensely helps me to stay afloat in the swirling seas and battering winds that life sometimes sends.