I remember shortly after my dad died Eric and I, along with our four small children, were out “joy” riding. There is something about dirt roads that sing to me. They are the sweetest lullabies that draw out the deepest of hidden memories and unfurled dreams inside of me. Something elusive makes me yearn for the courageous and reckless spirit of dirt roads. The woods, in all their mystery and fortitude, stand guard and hold their ground at the very edge of this “path” that has been purposefully and rebelliously cut through them like winding scars. And oh my! What an olfactory buffet. You can smell dirt from the newly planted fields. Or fresh water on newly cut grass. The jasmine calls in sweet fragrance as it drapes graciously over fence rows. And honeysuckle as it hangs in trumpets of honey gold from overgrown trees. The children are singing and laughing as they bounce around in the back of the slow moving truck. Eric and I are holding hands, saying little as random dogs bark and chase our tires. And I am thinking of my dad. Missing him so much I can hardly breathe. And then it hits me. This thing so slight but solid hits me out of the blue. In the depth of my sorrow and grief comes this awakening of the moment, unfolding in heaviness but quickness before my very eyes. I look at my tenderly held hand and the back seat full of our love manifested in dirt smeared, giggling faces. Out of the midst of the belly of grief blooms not pleasure or happiness but rather the whisper of an indescribable idea or reality. I sense it in its beauty and depth and am instantly confused but grateful by its presence. It can only be described as J O Y. It only came to rest like a butterfly, but as it lit, I was filled with a desire so great and so overwhelming I knew it did not come from me. The reality of it sits within me to this day, some ten years later.
Joy is different from any other emotion. So much is the difference that I would say joy is not an emotion at all and therefore cannot be associated with the “height” of an emotion. Saying that joy is the “state of great happiness” is like saying a big hill is a tiny mountain. In the description you may have been referring to scale but missed the majesty of the greater, thus reducing the true nature of the most grand to a thing that could easily be handled and explained. A mountain is seen as a creation of grandeur and glory. To use in comparison the mountain to a hill will only reduce the notion of the mountain, not elevate the reality of a hill.
To my understanding, joy and happiness are not to be pieced together, to do so will only reduce the glory of joy to merely just” a good time.”
Bitterness, pain, sorrow and grief are all emotions. And, in my reasoning, an emotion cannot overcome another emotion. Pleasure can replace pain, but as soon as pleasure is gone the pain will immediately come back. The emotion of bitterness, pain, sorrow and grief can only be overcome by joy. I have been plagued by these emotions this past year. I have felt the depth of a broken heart and have contended with the emotions that ravage the tender soul like swarms of hungry and careless locust. I have been crying out for J O Y! But the mystery of joy is that you cannot achieve it or find it like you find pleasure, comfort and happiness. The awesomeness of joy is that it finds you. The secret of joy is to recognize it when comes to rest upon you. God said His kingdom is a place filled with righteousness, peace and joy. Thankfully, He did not say happiness. Who would be happy to die on a cross? What kind of God would expect it? But like righteousness and peace, joy is not achieved. It is given. And it is given in the most bitter of natural circumstances. That is the goodness of God for my sake! (And for the sake of my hurt and ravaged soul.) In a heart filled with peace and righteousness, the reality of joy comes to rest. It matters not that I am not happy, or that my soul is tormented. In fact I am finding that it is these times when I sense most clearly the touch of joy. With tears on my face, in the bitterness of heartfelt pain, my God answers me. He gives me a reality bigger than my temporary being. He gives me… J O Y.