What Type of Joy Are You Nurturing?
As I prayed about and contemplated the word JOY for this month’s devotional, I spent some quality time in the Bible and a few minutes on Google. Did you know there are 19.5 million articles about how and why joy is better than happiness?! Good grief! Just so you know, I’ve decided NOT to add to that total. You’re welcome! 😁
While I was clicking around, I came across a number of images and memes promoting the popular motto: “Choose Joy!” Upon reflection, I wondered if it were literally possible for a person to CHOOSE joy. Rather than ponder this by myself, I chose to pose the question to my Facebook friends—a fantastic cross-section of folks from across the U.S. (and the world)—to see what they had to say. Here’s what I posted:
Do you think it’s possible to CHOOSE joy? Let’s define joy as “an internal sense of happiness that can co-exist alongside grief and frustration, but be snuffed out by worry and anxiety.”
As you might imagine, the answers varied, but not very widely: The overwhelming majority of my Christian and Agnostic friends agreed that it’s possible to choose joy, although a few dissented. A Buddhist friend suggested that while choosing joy is attainable, it’s not easy and requires “not just self-discipline, but a willingness to forgo unhealthy attachment to things as they are.” The response that really got my attention, though, was from a good friend in Washington state. He commented, “I think I choose optimism and attitude, but ‘joy’ is something I receive.” And just like that, my perspective on joy shifted.
I realized that I had been approaching this subject all wrong—as if joy had only one meaning. What I needed to do was research JOY more thoroughly in order to understand its nuances. Because if joy can be received, then it can also be given. If it can be given and received, then it can also be rejected and disregarded. What IS joy? Where does it come from? Can I generate it by myself, or do I need to find it somewhere else? Or both? Or neither? (Yes, this is how my brain works.) 😉
So, I began my “formal” research. And guess what I learned? JOY, one word in English, is expressed with a variety of words in other languages—especially in the Bible! I was surprised to find at least ten different root words for joy in the Old Testament (Hebrew) and five different word groups in the New Testament (Greek). Since we English speakers tend to use only one word for joy, it’s simple to suppose why joy is so frequently conflated with cheerfulness, contentment, pride, bliss, hope, and happiness.
Noted psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik developed a “Wheel of Emotions” to visually describe the relationships of emotions to each other—like an artist’s color wheel. He first identified eight “primary” emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, trust, disgust, surprise, and anticipation. He went on to teach that basic emotions could be expressed at a variety of intensities (like shades of a color) and could combine to create even more! Plutchik identified 8 distinct second-level and 25 third-level emotions for a grand total of 33 distinct emotions that comprise JOY. No wonder we struggle to understand it.
In order to better apprehend joy, imagine a backwards prism. There’s a full spectrum of second-level emotions shining into the prism (not to mention those in the third-level behind it), but only one emotion beams out the other side: JOY. That tiny word is pretty complex!
Joy is neither pre-meditated, nor can it’s time of arrival be controlled. When joy arrives on the scene, “it takes possession of the whole person”1—body, mind, and spirit. This is why “tears of joy” is not an oxymoron: It’s perfectly natural for a person to well-up with tears (i.e., have a visceral reaction) in the midst of a joyous occurrence. 😂 😂 😂
So, does everyone experience joy? Yes, but in not the same way and not necessarily the same kind. There are three main types of joy we see in Scripture: Public Joy, Personal Joy, and Pure Joy.
“You are to hold a seven-day festival for the Lord your God…and you will have abundant joy.” Deuteronomy 16:15
PUBLIC JOY is a shared experience with others and fades more quickly than the other two types. For example, you might experience public joy at a Panthers 🏈 game—assuming they are your favorite team, and they win. Or maybe you’re at a regional conference with some friends, and one of them 🙋 makes a life-changing decision. Or maybe you are cheering at the TV when your favorite team seals their spot in the Final Four 🏀 during March Madness. Even though you’re not necessarily in a crowd at the moment, you are enjoying it with people from all over the world. Biblical examples of public joy are seen during annual feasts, communal festivals, and celebrations (cf. Num. 10:10; Deut. 16:15). At times—even today—it may be felt in the course of corporate worship (cf. Ezra 3:13). Unfortunately, public joy is temporary—it rises and falls with the live experience. At certain times it will last longer than others, but eventually, public joy fades away.
“For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me!” Luke 1:44
PERSONAL JOY is experienced within oneself, but it is not received or felt until something happens. The “something” might be an anticipated milestone (e.g., the arrival of a letter from a publisher accepting your book proposal; the birth of a child; your husband’s promotion at work; etc.), or it could be a complete surprise (e.g., a soldier surprises her family by coming home unannounced). At that moment—when IT happens—you experience a spontaneous visceral reaction as personal joy “wells up” within you—“tears of joy” may be involved. Or not. How you experience personal joy has as much to do with your character and values as it does your personality type. When something happens in alignment with your values and hopes, the strong emotional response you have is more than relief, happiness, or even peace: It’s a deep sense of joy that lingers (cf. Luke 1:39-44; 2 Tim. 1:4). Personal joy takes up most of the spectrum. Individuals will find joy in a variety of things or find themselves receiving joy in unexpected moments. Interestingly, however, what brings one person joy, could just as easily trigger sadness in another. Personal joy is, well, personal.
“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b
PURE JOY is experienced at the metaphysical level (spiritually). It exists separate from the individual, and might seem elusive, if you don’t know where to find it. Thankfully, Scripture teaches us where to look and how to acquire it (cf. Ps. 16:11; ). Pure joy is the spiritual fruit of a personal relationship with the Lord—rooted in His Word (Ps. 119:105) and cultivated by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). It’s this relationship that produces in us the ability to face severe circumstances with a sense of deep and abiding joy. Pure joy holds us in place like an anchor in the storm. No longer do we rely on public joy or personal joy to carry us through the tough times: That’s dangerous and way too subjective (Neh. 8:10). Instead, we cling to the promises in His Word (cf. Isa. 40:31; Mal. 3:10; John 8:36; Jas. 1:5), trusting that our Heavenly Father will work everything out according to His plans and for His glory (cf. Ps. 139; Isa. 46:9-10; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 8:28; 1 John 4:13). This yields a peace that passes understanding, and pure joy has a place to take root and grow.
Public Joy, Personal Joy, Pure Joy—each of these was created for our benefit, and they are not mutually exclusive. We can experience them one at a time, or all at once! But if your goal, like mine, is to approach life from a place of pure joy (the joy of the LORD), we must discipline ourselves to tend the garden of our hearts. 🌱💗🌱 We must consistently lop off self-reliance (Rev. 3:15-20), fear (1 John 4:18), and anxiety (1 Peter 5:7); and instead, feed on the Word (2 Tim. 2:15 & 3:16-17); assure proper exposure to the Son (cf. Rom. 10:9-10; Jas. 4:7-8); allow pruning to stimulate growth (John 15:2); and enjoy unlimited access to living water (cf. John 7:37-39; Rom. 5:4-6; Rev. 22:17). Tend the garden, and pure joy will bloom in a full spectrum of color so beautiful that others will want to know how you did it. Then, you share your little secret: It’s all about Him! 🙌 ☝️ ️✝️
“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”