By Angelica Goh
What is Christian joy?
In common usage, “joy” and “happiness” can be seen as synonyms. Often we use it interchangeably to mean the same thing. However, the words have two distinct meanings and applications. “Happiness” can be described as an emotion, while “joy” suggests a more complete, ecstatic, lasting passion than mere happiness.
Happiness is a reaction to pleasure, a state of emotion experienced during a state of well-being. An emotion is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a strong feeling deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others’. This means that happiness can be fleeting and easily taken away in times of hardship, trial, or need. In the world today, we have been made to feel as if material goods, career success and instant gratification is what gives us happiness. We chase these things in pursuit of this “happiness” If we made our life’s pursuit merely about being happy, we would be building our lives upon an unsteady foundation. A person may have all these material things, but may still not feel satisfied with the happiness of this success. Material things, even human relationships, cannot give us the true happiness of what we desire. As human beings, we innately long for more than the mere pleasure or contentment associated with happiness – Joy.
Unlike happiness, joy is not circumstantial. It is accessible to us even in the worst of times, and it can never be taken away from us. In John 16:22, Jesus says “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.” To a Christian, joy is dependent on who Jesus is rather than who we are or what is happening around us. Since the essence of who Jesus is never changes and will never change, is what gives the Christian a perpetual joy to which happiness cannot compare. The Christian understands that he is seen, known and loved by God.
Nothing in this world – not a fancy job, stellar grades or even a great relationship – can bring us true joy. We all have a God-shaped hole in our heart that no one but God can fill. If you are searching for that joy in your life, know that Jesus is inviting you to experience life in fullness with Him, and He desires to give you joy.
How can I be joyful?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) discusses the nature of joy and happiness. In 1723, “true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or any human achievement…or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.” In other words, temporal happiness is not enough to satisfy us; we long for the “joy of the Lord” (CCC 1720). Recognizing that God is our Creator and that we rely totally on Him is a “source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence” (CCC 301).
How, then, are we to remain joyful in the Lord?
First, we need to go back to the source of this joy, God Himself. Christian joy is knowing Jesus and rejoicing in Him. The best part is we don’t have to wait until heaven to know how good Jesus is. Jesus wants a relationship with us and has given us His Holy Spirit so that we can hear His voice and get to know Him better. We get to have a relationship with Jesus, when we get to worship him, talk to him, listen to him, and love him. That is why it’s important to spend time in prayer, adoration in front of the Eucharist (the real presence of Christ) and attend Mass frequently.
Second, joy can be found by delighting in God’s Word. As the prophet Jeremiah says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16) From cover to cover, the Bible is full of God’s promises, and as we grow in relationship with Jesus, we begin to see His hand in our lives through the Bible and we ourselves become transformed by the words. This requires openness on our part, a willingness to allow God to touch our lives. When we know the blessings that are in God’s word, we will experience abundant joy.
Finally, joy can also be contagious! When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she travelled to meet Elizabeth who was pregnant with John. In Luke 1:41, we see that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” The joy of encountering Christ is contagious. It starts with the unborn John and spreads to Elizabeth, who is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Similarly, as Christians it is our duty to share our encounters with Christ to others, and listen to their encounters with Christ. We share these testimonies to encourage, amaze and strengthen the faith of those around us. We need to allow yourselves to be bearers of Christ to everyone you meet and allow these bearers of Christ to visit you in your darkest moments, to speak truths to you and to remind you once again, of this gift of joy you have in you!
Of course, it might be jarring if you are a non-Christian who is listening to a Christian sharing so deeply about their encounter. If there is someone who has been trying to reach out to you, we invite you to be open and to listen to what they have to share. It may be as important for them to be heard as it is to listen!
Joy is something for you to experience. Jesus desires that joy for you. Joy transforms difficult times into blessings and turns heartache into gratitude. Joy brings meaning to life. It brings Life to life.