December 11, 2013

Choosing Joy

Having lived for a season with depression, I understand via the distinct contrast between it and joy how the latter is a genius quality.

When I came out of the depression, I noticed with surprise that everything appeared markedly more vivid than it had before. Colors – whether the hues of autumn leaves or the glow of neon lights – shone more brightly. The sounds of birds and cars and voices resonated more clearly. The tastes of spices and the various scents in my environment stood out. The facial features of friends and loved ones seemed more sharply defined. And I became “alive” again to interactions with those around me, more fully engaging in relationship with friends and strangers alike. It was like coming out of a long, dark tunnel and bursting forth into Narnia after Aslan’s arrival.

Only in hindsight could I see how dull everything had appeared in my depression and how disengaged I’d been from others and from my own soul. In that state, I’d been in survival mode, struggling just to get through each day. I’d been completely uninterested in and unable to accomplish anything creative or compelling. In other words, my God-given genius – joy and the other qualities with which we’re all innately gifted – had been paralyzed, locked in a vice grip of emotional dysfunction. As I came out of it, my sensitivity, curiosity, and joy woke anew. But I had to come out of it to get there.

Of course, emotional dysfunction is one of several factors that shuts down any person’s genius qualities. And because the loss of joy saps energy, humor, playfulness and the rest, it is, perhaps, one of the main warning signs that something is wrong within the heart of a child or adult.

So we want to do what we can to maintain joy. But how is that possible in the midst of personal difficulty and the societal strife that surrounds and threatens to engulf us?

We first need to understand the true definition of joy. It is not “happiness.” If it were, the scriptural admonition to “count it all joy” (James 1.2) would be cruel. One cannot be “happy” when a job is lost, a house burns to the ground, or a dear loved one is snatched away from this life, and it would be terrible to suggest such a thing. However, we can have “joy” in such circumstances – if we understand that joy is not the giddy glee of happiness. Instead, it’s actually the presence of a deep, internal conviction that all things will eventually work out for good.

People often believe they’ve lost their joy; I felt that in my depression. But it’s not true. I’d actually just become so overwhelmed by temporary circumstances that the natural joy within me was stifled – a common and understandable reaction to stress that I simply didn’t realize until later. Now, though, I understand the dynamics, and I realize I have a choice in the matter. I’ll obviously continue to experience events that bring frustration and sadness, and I will, of course, not always be happy. Yet I can choose to refuse to allow my joy to be suffocated, so that it and my other God-given genius qualities might remain viable. In the midst of hurt and tragedy, that takes work. But it’s possible and it’s worth it.

Do you agree?

Photo Credit: grammycarolynn


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