A search for joy

When we talk of joy as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we aren’t talking about a worldly concept, or an idea that the world even understands. Joy hardly isn’t even in the world’s vocabulary.

We talk more about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Happiness and joy are not synonyms. Happiness is temporary; joy is forever. Happiness is the result of doing something that makes us happy, such as eating a good meal.

My wife and I enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Red Lobster after church yesterday. But we had a light supper that evening and breakfast this morning. The happiness we felt from yesterday’s dinner didn’t last; we got hungry again.

Joy is constant. Even when I don’t feel “joyful” – and I don’t consider myself a joyful person – joy remains in my heart. Joy, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is something that only Christians can understand. It’s deep in our hearts. It comes from relationship with Jesus Christ. It involves knowledge as well as feelings.

Let’s look at this a little further.

Good news of great joy

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11

 

For the shepherds, that night started like any other night. With no warning, an angel showed up. The shepherds received the shock of their lives. But the angel had a wonderful message to deliver: Don’t be afraid. The Savior was born today.

This news is “great joy.”

Jews had waited for that moment for hundreds of years. Their prayer, their hope, their longing were answered. Expectation and silence were replaced by great joy.

That joy is the Savior, the Messiah. His parents named him Jesus.

Temporary pain, permanent joy

Jesus … said to them (the disciples), “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me?’ Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.

“When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.

“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16: 19-22

 

Just a few hours before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples that their pain would be temporary, and that it would turn into permanent joy – that no one could take from them.

Pain comes first. Perhaps we have to feel pain before we can understand joy.

The world will rejoice in their pain, Jesus told the disciples. He knew the disciples would run away from Him when He would be arrested soon after this conversation took place. The world did not understand Jesus’ pain, or that of His disciples, nor can the world understand the joy that followed His resurrection.

This remains true today.

Lost and found

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

 

Luke 15 describes three parables with the same theme: one lost sheep in a flock of 100, a lost coin and a lost son (prodigal’s son). In all three stories, something valuable was lost. When it was found, the owner in all three parables threw a party for his friends and neighbors to celebrate.

That kind of joy is uncontainable. It bubbles over. It has to be shared.

It’s not “happiness.” Finding something meaningful that was lost brings out a much deeper response in us. A joy worth celebrating.

Reading the law

All the people (about 50,000) gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.

He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

Then he (Nehemiah) said to them, “Go your way … and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And all the people went their way … to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 10, 12

 

After Nehemiah and Ezra led the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem and, despite opposition, rebuilt the wall around the city, they read the book of the law of Moses (the first five books of our Old Testament), which was God’s word to them. Because they had been exiles, they hadn’t heard God’s word verbalized for decades.

When the people discovered through the law how much God loved them, they rejoiced. They found joy in God’s promises to them, and in His faithfulness despite their sinfulness.

Do we have the same response when we read the Bible?

Joy while suffering

Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

 

Can there be joy in the midst of pain? When someone is suffering from cancer and is given a short time to live, can that person rejoice despite his or her pain? When a loved one dies, can those of us who remain find joy in the eternal rest our loved one is now enjoying? We miss the deceased person terribly, of course, but can we find joy in the midst of sorrow?

I’ve seen it happen. Such times are never happy. But they can be joyful.

A friend of mine in his early 80s has suffered from severe, often debilitating, headaches since he fell down a flight of stairs when he was 14. He has suffered for decades, literally. He and his wife just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. She has suffered alongside him all those years.

Yet, they rejoice in God’s goodness. Like Job in the Old Testament, they accept the bad with the good.

They persevere. Even more than that, they overcome. They continue to live life to the fullest as best they can.

If that’s not joy …

And yet I can’t explain it. I have never experienced anything like that. When all is taken away, we discover what we truly need.

Crazy start, wonderful ending

I started work early last Thursday, thanks to an extra assignment. As a driver for adults with developmental disabilities, on this particular day I was to pick up a wheelchair-bound person at his temporary residence in a nursing home and transport him to a nearby hospital for early morning surgery.

Another staff person was to meet me at the day program center where I work in Elyria, Ohio. She would lead me to the nursing home, and to the hospital.

It was cold outside. I started my van at 6 a.m. to warm it up.

Blizzard strikes

Almost immediately, it started snowing. Hard. I had to run the windshield wipers so I could see.

This was the first week of April, after Easter. So much for an early spring.

Ten minutes later my co-worker arrived. She drove her personal vehicle and I followed in my wheelchair-accessible van.

We got on eastbound Interstate 90. Traffic was heavy – and going 25 mph. The highway was slick. Several vehicles, mostly pickups, had buried themselves down the embankment on the side of the highway. This winter storm came quickly, without warning.

I trudged along at 25-30 mph, two hands on the wheel, wipers activated for the blowing snow.  The news station I listen to in the morning reported numerous wrecks throughout the area. Traffic stopped completely on one interstate, and slowed to a crawl on several others – including the one I was on.

I kept my eyes forward, on my co-worker’s vehicle up ahead. She had told me which exit to take, so we caravanned off the highway and eventually reached the nursing home just over the Bay Village line.

She went inside and retrieved our patient. I loaded him into my van.

We got back on I-90. Traffic was moving a little faster now, thankfully, but snow continued to fall. We got off a few exits later and before long arrived at Fairview Hospital on Cleveland’s west side.

His surgery was scheduled for 7 a.m. We arrived about 7:10 a.m. It’s the best we could do.

Here comes the sun

Normally I start my shift at the day program and head east. Since this was Thursday, my first stop was in Columbia Station. Then, I pick up an individual in Strongsville.

Since I knew the day before about this extra run to the hospital, I told the Columbia Station individual’s mom that I’d be late this day. Good thing. I’m usually at their house about 7:15 a.m.

Instead, I changed my morning route a little. Starting from Fairview as the sun was supposed to come up, I jumped on southbound Interstate 71. Northbound I-71 heading into Cleveland was stopped for several miles, due to a couple of those weather-related wrecks I heard about on the radio. Southbound, we moved fairly well – not at highway speeds because it was still snowing, but at least we were moving.

I got off at the appropriate exit and arrived at my Strongsville destination on time. I took a deep breath and gave a prayer of thanks.

From there, I drove west to Columbia Station, arriving at about 8 a.m. They were very understanding, and appreciated my heads-up that I’d be late.

Oh, yes. Since I was south of Cleveland by now, the sun was shining and the roads were clear. The snow didn’t reach this area at all. With this storm, only the northern regions by Lake Erie were affected.

Were they ever.

I finished my route uneventfully and arrived at the day program center relatively on time, grateful for a safe drive.

A special outing

That day, we had an outing scheduled in Brunswick, about a 40-minite drive away. Since Brunswick is south of Strongsville, the weather was fine in that direction.

I took two individuals – one in a wheelchair, one ambulatory – to Scene 75, which offers arcade-style games that our individuals could enjoy. We had planned to take more individuals but our bus was in the shop, so we didn’t have the transportation for a big group.

The three of us arrived at 11 a.m. when Scene 75 opened. We ate lunch first, like we often do at our outings, then spent the rest of our time enjoying the games. Both individuals had a good time, playing games each enjoyed. Money was put on a game card for each of them, and when the cards were used up, we cashed in the tickets they won for a few prizes, then drove back to the center.

Because our bus was unavailable, I had to make an extra run to take several of our folks to their home before making my regular afternoon run.

I ended the day about 5 p.m., which is typical for me. A busy 11-hour day (I don’t often stay all day; four days a week I get several hours off midday so I don’t go over 40 hours), with a crazy first hour on the highways.

Of those 11 hours, I spent a total of less than one at the day program center. All of it was on the road or at Scene 75.

Some days are like that.

The reward

The next day, the snow was long gone and all was back to normal. When I returned to the day program in the afternoon, something happened that makes this job worth doing. The ambulatory individual I took to Scene 75 put down the tablet he enjoys when at the day program, walked over to where I was standing, gave me a big smile, then gave me a side hug.

I’d never seen him do that before, with me or any other staff person. He is non-verbal, but I felt he was thanking me for a good time the day before.

After the hug, he returned to his seat and picked up his tablet, continuing on with his day.

My heart was full. The fact that only three of us went on that outing meant that I could give almost undivided attention to both individuals. I think they appreciated that.

That’s what our day program is all about. Connecting with the community. Connecting with each other. Sometimes it’s hard. Plans don’t always go smoothly.

But when they do, even on a day that gets off to a crazy start, it makes this job special.

Got to go. I’ll get lunch here at home, then head back to the center shortly thereafter for my afternoon run.

We’ll see what today holds.