For me it's this picture of my little guy when he was 2.
This picture embodies joy to me. Children are filled with joy at such simple things. But then we grow up and our wants become bigger and joy becomes less and less spontaneous. And life is hard. Joy can be like a butterfly: beautiful but never quite coming close enough or landing long enough for us to really possess it.
I think one of the things that often makes joy so illusive to us is that it is an emotion. Emotions seem difficult - nearly impossible - to command. They spring up in us, apparently automatically. It can be difficult to understand how to make ourselves feel joy. Harder still to solve the puzzle of how to be joyful in the middle of life's hard. But a lack of joy kills the atmosphere of rest and shelter - of haven- we want to have in our marriages. What to do?
Look in the right place.
When our boys were little, I used to play hide-and-seek with them. They would run and hide and I would 'look' for them. They weren't too hard to spot - a wiggling curtain or the giggles coming from under the table quickly gave them away. But since the object of the game was for them to hide from me, so I would begin a long, noisy search for them - under the throw pillows on the couch, in the kitchen cupboards, behind the door. Looking for them in all the places they weren't hidden so that they could enjoy hiding for a just bit longer.
Sometimes I think my search for joy is a lot like that. As a believer I know I ought to be joyful. I want to find joy, feel joy. But my elaborate search for joy has me looking in all the wrong places: the good opinion of people, easier circumstances, buying that new gadget... the list of places we look for - and fail to find - joy is unending. Joy is much harder to find than the giggling toddler behind the curtain, but maybe it's us that makes the search so hard. When I, like the psalmist, understand that God is the source of joy (Psalm 43:4, Psalm 16:11) and chose to grow the roots of my joy deep into Him (Philippians 4:4), then joy is a present reality, not an illusive wish.
Cultivate the right treasures
Another reason I think joy is so difficult to find is that we neglect to treasure the truly valuable things of life. I often ponder this when I read the first few verses of James 1:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.These verses highlight for me how vastly different God and I are in what we value. When I go through a trial, I long for escape, a happier set of circumstances, ease. These verses encourage joy for a very different set of reasons: going through a difficult trial grows my endurance and makes me more mature in my faith. James writes that this is a cause for joy and I see how my definition of what is valuable falls so short of what God values. As I learn to love and trust him more fully, let Him change my heart, He will cause me to value the truly valuable things. I long for Him to produce in me the ability to go through difficulty and be joyful because the truly important work of making me look more like Christ is being accomplished.
Trust the right Person
Life is full of unimaginable pain, tragedy, betrayal, heartbreak, death. Against this dark background, the Gospel sparkles with its life-giving message: Our God is a redeemer. He has gone to great lengths to ensure that his children will be redeemed from sin and its effects. He will not stop until he has redeemed everything.(Romans 8:18-21) And this is cause for our joy. When people and circumstances and our own sin-riddled hearts have left us empty and aching; when joy is unimaginable, God is unchanged. He is still good, still at work, still faithfully redeeming the unredeemed. When nothing else brings us joy, we can still find joy in this: nothing will escape the all-is-grace transformation of our Redeemer-Father.
Last year I read the book Choosing Joy by Kay Warren. She had a lot of great insights in her book, one of which has become my treasure map for finding joy. I have adapted her wording slightly…