My son's teacher emailed last week to remind me to stay for chapel on Tuesday because little man would be receiving the character award for this month in his kindergarten class.
Imagine my delight and knowing thankfulness when she informed me he would be receiving a character award for none other than JOY.
I found it no coincidence that the Bible verse we memorized for the month was Psalm 16:11--the same verse that has been written on the chalkboard in my bathroom since our journey to California first began.
"You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand."
There has been JOY throughout this entire journey. Joy in the changes, joy in the process, joy in the disappointments, joy in the transitions, joy in the loneliness, joy in the hard, joy in the new. Ever-present JOY.
Which leads me to finally write down a definition of joy for which I've been searching, based solely on my experiences: Joy is experiencing and being filled with the moment-by-moment presence of God in your life.
It's not simply the knowledge that He is there. No, I've always known He was there. Believing He is an omnipresent God has never been the issue. Practicing living my life in a such a way that I realize He is actually WITH me at all times--now that's a whole other discipline in itself. (Matthew 28:20)
Experiencing His presence in the every day, the mundane, the ordinary, the grocery-store moments, the car-driving interims, the twinkle of a child's eye, the mention of something silly in a conversation or on the radio--experiencing God in all those moments--this is where the rubber meets the road.
Joy is an experience of the Holy Spirit. It's a continuing event. It's not just a state of mind. Joy occurs when you open your eyes to the eternal life of all God has created around you, to the truth of how He has designed you. Little 'ole you. (Ephesians 1)
One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, writes in her book One Thousand Gifts about seeing God in everything around you, even the tiny bubbles in your dish washing water. When I first read that, my immediate reaction was, "Ok. I get where she's coming from. But come on. Really? Soap bubbles? Isn't it exhausting, a little over the top to see God in everything?" And quite honestly, I scoffed a little thinking, "Well, Ann just might be a little too holy, a little too deep for me."
Really? Is there any such thing as too holy? Joy abounds in the experience of all things holy, and since this world is sinful and fallen and eaten up with the unholy, sometimes we balk at things that are even subtlety holy...like seeing God in soap bubbles.
So if God is the only true Holy Entity in all of creation, then seeing glimpses of God anywhere in anything (like soap bubbles and ocean waves) is probably the best we're going to get to actually seeing the holiness and glory of God in this sin-filled, fleshly body.
And to see God, even just a glimpse of Who He is, to relish in a moment that God is choosing to reveal Himself through a set of circumstances, a person, a place, a thing, a thought, a song, anything--to be aware of and to capture that moment with a smile and prayer of awe and gratefulness--THAT process, THAT experience, THAT continual event is JOY. It equals joy. It is the definition of joy.
And if you're blissfully ignorant or distracted by busyness or naively unaware, undiscerning--you will miss the God moments happening all around you. Like the gift of sunshine on a day when your heart feels heavy. Or the phone call from a friend when you are in the pit of loneliness. What about that Bible verse that popped out of nowhere into your day? Or the neighbor you've never really spoken with gladly opening her home to care for your dog?
Do you recognize the God moments? Are you tapped into, abiding in the Holy Spirit such that you see Him? (John 15:5) Hear Him? That Voice that said turn left instead of right that kept you out of hours of traffic--did you thank Him for that? That prompting to stop what you're doing and play a game with your kids then having conversations with them you could have never prompted. Did you thank God for that prompt in your spirit? Did you give Him the credit--the glory--where credit is due?
This is joy living, friends. And it's not always hugs and butterflies and good feelings. What about that verse you felt the Lord leading you to tape to the middle of your steering wheel? (Psalm 62:8) And then she dies and that verse stays taped to your steering wheel for 18 months until you feel the Spirit say, "It's time for a new thing." And you realize, looking back, that in the midst of your grieving, in the center of the hard, in the middle of your pain, that verse has helped you experience joy in small moments when the searing heat of the loss seemed too much to bear.
No, joy is not just for the good times. It can be your only glimpse of light in the bad times as well. Joy is the flower that blooms in the rubble of what remains after destruction has passed, but it is also the eye of the hurricane. Joy can be lived, experienced, at any point in time.
Because God is everywhere at all times in all things (Jeremiah 23:23-24); therefore, we can experience Him, see Him, at all times in all things (Psalm 139:7-12); therefore we can have joy at all times in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Of this I am confident.
Open your eyes, my friends. Start by seeing yourself as God sees you (1 Peter 2:9). Then look around and see if you can't find Him even in the soap bubbles while washing your dishes (Acts 17:27). And soon, you will find yourself being a light of joy to others when you weren't even trying, you weren't really even thinking about other people, you were just thinking about your Good God and how grateful you are He calls you His own, yet in that process, you shine JOY to those around you, and they notice, and it makes a difference.
See God in all things, and others will experience God through you. That's how you spread the joy. See God. And thank Him that He sees you exactly. where. you. are. Right now. In your circumstances, in your stage of life.
Did you see your God moment today? Did you recognize it? Can you reflect and find it? If so, you found joy my friend, you found JOY.