Finding joy

Oh, Joyous Proclamation! The King is coming! But this joy feels hollow, it feels fake, it feels all too fragile as I wait for it to crumble back down around my feet.

I’m not used to joy.

The Bible speaks of believers as a joyous people, even in the midst of hardship and struggle. Does that mean I’m not a proper Christian? Does that mean I’m doing it wrong? Just because depression has trained me over the last two decades to not quite know what to do with it when it does appear, to not trust it to last. And I’ve learned that happiness is a fickle thing, not to be directly pursued.

Isn’t there a verse somewhere that says we can be clothed in joy? As if joy is a choice we make. Joy has never felt like it was under my control. There was never any decision possible to ‘just think positive’. (I was thinking of this one, which says that God does the clothing.) Joy and I have had a rather estranged relationship. She seems easily scared off, no, that’s not the right words. Blocked, fenced out, by pain and tiredness and anxiety. And any room I do make for her is quickly squashed again by my menstrual cycle and the waves of anxiety.

Maybe it’s not that joy is fickle, but that the barriers I have to it are constantly in motion, constantly changing. Maybe it’s more like developing core muscles while sitting and balancing on an exercise ball; maybe I just need to develop my ‘joy muscles’.

Is joy something you can practise? I know it is something you can get used to, or unused to. It can be familiar or unfamiliar.

But aren’t we meant to be proclaiming the joy of the Gospel? How can I proclaim something I don’t know intimately?

Photo: Sometimes finding joy is a case of learning to recognise it, to become familiar with it, comfortable in its presence.

Original photo by Alessio Soggetti.

Joy is an interesting concept. It’s related to happiness, but isn’t the same. It’s the theme of the third week of Advent, so I’m here face to face with it, looking into her eyes. I understand it as a sustained sense of calm positivity (as opposed to the energised/agitated buzz of excitement and anxiety, or a persistent sense of negativity). And I’m well practised at neither calmness nor positivity. I started meditating as a deliberate way to learn calmness. It is literally practising calmness, resting my all-too-agitated mind.

And positivity? How can I practice that? Well, maybe I already am. By having self-care routines which look after me, my body and my mind, to help me feel good and encouraged and productive. By having goals which make me feel fulfilled, when I am contributing positively to the world. Maybe my life is more joy-filled than I thought. Perhaps it’s more a case of learning to recognise it, to become familiar with it, comfortable in its presence. Maybe we are closer friends than I thought. I’m suddenly seeing a greater depth there than I expected.

And as I walk the paths of non-violence, as I take action on my heart’s yearnings, when I chase after Love and Peace, I find I am walking in joy after all.

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