I remember distinctly the feeling of having my joy deflated. I was walking down the hallway of the elementary school where I worked on the first day of school. I loved my job, I loved the students, and I was just so happy to be right where I was that my joy was written on my face. Two women walked down the hallway toward me, and as they passed, one commented to the other, “Just wait until a month from now. She won’t be smiling then.”
She meant her words to be funny, but they really hurt. In a moment, my emotion went from just plain joy to being something suspect, something temporary and a little ridiculous. It hurt to have my very positive feelings unappreciated. I was still happy to be where I was—and confident that I would still be joyful a month from that date—but I felt deflated.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t my only such experience. We don’t have to spend much time in any environment—work, school, shopping, watching TV—to see that same kind of response to happiness and joy:
“What are you so happy about?”
“Yeah! What makes it a good morning?”
“Well, just wait [until your kids are teenagers…until your first fight…until you’re 40]. Then you won’t be so chipper.”
It has happened so often that I have developed my own term for such statements: “joy-jabbers.” The thrust of the joy-jabbers is that one’s joy or happiness is based on something temporary, and that when the circumstances change, the joy will be replaced with discouragement. Ultimately, the underlying implication is that the joyful or happy person is, well, not too smart, because if they were smart, they would be just as miserable as everyone else. In fact, if you type “happy people” and “stupid” into a search engine, you will find lots of people talking about whether happy people are really stupid or only perceived that way.
So what does all this have to do with the Christian journey? There is a connection.
First, joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness tends to be based on outside circumstances: it’s a sunny day, I had my coffee, and I got a letter in the mail from my friend. Happiness!
Joy, however, is a deep-seated emotion that isn’t based on outside circumstances. In the Christian walk, our joy is based on faith that God will keep His promises to His people, and that He will care for His flock, no matter how the outside circumstances look.
The Bible is full of references to joy. The Psalms repeatedly encourage the reader to be joyful in the Lord and to shout for joy because of His righteous deeds. In Isaiah 35:10 we see reference to a day when the ransomed of God shall return with joy and gladness. The apostle Paul wrote that those who ministered to the Corinthians strove to be helpers of their joy by establishing them in faith (2 Corinthians 1:24), and joy is listed as a fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
Secondly – and this is the connection – God gives us clear instruction about how we are to deal with the joys and sorrows of others. We live in difficult times, and we will all have experiences that discourage us or make us temporarily unhappy, or even joyless. What should our attitude be towards those who are cheerful, happy, and joyful when we don’t feel the same way? Paul writes in that we ought to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). It is entirely appropriate to sometimes be sad, and we ought not try to force those who mourn into false cheer. But just as importantly, when someone is joyful, we ought to encourage that joy instead of seeking to snatch it away.
The next time you are tempted to answer a positive statement with a negative commentary, think instead about rejoicing with that joy. Remember the Biblical perspective on joy and gladness, and resist the temptation to be a joy-jabber.
For more practical advice on living a joyous life, read the helpful Bible study aid Making Life Work.