As we have discovered over the past several weeks, each week of Advent (on top of the overarching concepts of revival, restoration and revelation) focuses on one of four sequential themes. Following hope and peace, the third week of Advent emphasizes joy, and personally, I feel like this theme comes at the perfect time for educators as we wrap up the last week of a very long semester. How do we seek joy in the middle of the stress? In the middle of the muck? In the middle of this ruthless COVID-19 pandemic? Here, we will explore what joy is, what joy is not, and how we can cultivate joy in the middle of the mundane, the melancholy, and the hard.
What joy isn't
It helps to begin our discussion on seeking joy by first striving to understand what joy isn't. Y'all, joy isn't happiness. Happiness is this more transient, fleeting emotion that rises to the surface (and then quickly dissipates) in moments of pleasure or contentment. I am happy when I eat tacos, but when my tacos have been thoroughly deconstructed and destroyed, my happiness ebbs and I return to the more monotonous tasks in my day. I am happy when something advantageous happens to me, such as receiving verbal praise from a student, most of my class passing an exam, or when my husband unexpectedly cleans the kitchen for me while I write. Joy, however, is something much deeper. It is something much more selfless and sacrificial, and God is typically at the intersection of where we meet.
what joy is
Per the work of Brené Brown, joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions we can experience. We can be so uncomfortable in our joy, for example, that we can often create a sense of what Brown calls "foreboding joy" within ourselves. This happens when we immediately follow a sense of deep contentment with a negative thought. For example, after realizing that you are falling in love with the person of your dreams, you might suddenly imagine that your beloved dies in a car accident. We can dress rehearse tragedy, as Brown says, when we can't sit with and tolerate our own joy.
So, how can we learn to sit with and cultivate deep, meaningful joy in our lives? Brown suggests we start with a spirit of gratitude. She believes, through her research, that those with the greatest capacity to experience joy first master the art of gratitude. Joy stems from the overflow of gratitude in our hearts.
Joy from a biblical perspective
Here is what the Bible tells us about joy:
As we can see, a few resounding themes stand out from a biblical perspective regarding joy. First, when we are afflicted, we should consider it great joy. As James 1:3 continues, "because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." Considering that joy is manifested in a selfless and sacrificial way as compared to happiness, this makes sense, doesn't it? The feeling of polishing off a plate of tacos is certainly different than the feeling inside of us when we have effectively led our school through a global pandemic, isn't it friends? While the former can easily be classified as happiness, the latter is pure joy. It comes from great trial, and the perseverance that comes from being patient in our affliction and, hopefully, faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12).
Speaking of prayer, we also see that joy is cultivated when we ask for what we need in God's name (John 16:24). We mentioned last week the idea that there can be no peace without prayer. I don't believe that we can cultivate true, radical joy without prayer, either. Both Romans 12:12 and John 16:24 mention faithful prayer as a means for our joy to be complete.
And finally, when Luke mentions joy in verse 2:10, he describes the coming of the Savior as cause for great joy. Again, not quite the same feeling we get as when we dig into that big scoop of Rocky Road. Joy isn't happiness, and we have to cultivate it in scenarios that are often less than ideal.
So, what does joy look like in practice? Here are three quick ways that we can cultivate joy as educators, and as leaders within our places of work and within our homes, as we move through this Advent season.
Just as peace must be practiced, joy must also be sought. Here are some further reflections to guide you in your study this week.
Linger a Little Longer:
1. Consider an example of something that makes you happy, and something that brings you joy. What is the difference between the two emotions? (And no, you cannot use tacos as an example!) Explain.
2. Which aforementioned Bible verse regarding joy resonates with you most? Why?
3. Choose one of the ways to cultivate joy above. How can you commit to cultivating joy in your life this week?