Updated: Aug 5, 2022
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” (1 Peter 1:8)
I remember the feeling of “just being” as a child, sitting by myself in a field behind the school on a sunny day, trying to find a four-leaf clover. I never did find one – and I didn’t really have my hopes up – but it was a lovely, peaceful endeavor, basking in the sun, slowly searching.
I remember in the summertime, going into my grandpa’s pasture in Gopher Valley, Oregon, and giving a hug and a pat to the gentle, giant workhorses (trying to stay away from their hooves, which hurt a lot if they stepped on me), and then walking to the end of the pasture, near the neighbor’s property, to a little raised “island” with trees and stumps and a tiny path curling around them. I guess it was too hard to remove, so Grandpa just had a cow and horse pasture around it. I would climb up an oak tree, sit on a branch, and read my latest library book. Or I would sit and make up my own stories, with heroes and adventure and love.
It is easy to remember joy. It is easy to think about the joy I have right now – cuddly kittens, an old dog who needs lots of affection, the love and companionship of a good man who is in it for the long haul, the promised joy of our much-loved young adult children being home together for Christmas, good books, laughter and friendships, of a cozy home near the woods, of work I enjoy – with people I enjoy – and a church I call home, with people I care about. I think about the joy of being able to pray and read about and communicate with the One who made me and loves me, who thinks I’m precious no matter what.
It is a joyful time, during Advent, celebrating the coming of Jesus as a baby and what he did for us as an adult. But Satan is doing all he can to quash any joy we have – or any joy anywhere – this season, with trials in our lives, with loved ones who die or others who are battling cancer, with empathizing with friends’ hardships, or the tragedy of inexplicable violence in schools (not only in the terrible murders in Connecticut, but in China, where one would-be killer recently stabbed a large group of school children). Or the ongoing sadness – all year long – of the starving poor in third-world countries, of those desperately impacted by civil war or disease, of those globally and locally who are being trafficked against their will, of those who have no hope.
“Consider it all joy,” says James, “whenever you face trials of many kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) I’ve been doing Beth Moore’s study on James (Mercy Triumphs), and she points out we are to “consider” or “count” it all joy – not “feel” all joy. Our emotions don’t have to be corralled into a fake joyful feeling when we are so deep down in-our-bones sad about something that happened to others or to us.
The only way to consider all of life joy is to remember that we have a closer-than-close relationship with the Source of joy. There is a joy in just living. I’m reading a great book by Henri Nouwen called Adam: God’s Beloved (Orbis, 1997) about his friendship with a young man named Adam, who was severely disabled and lived with Henri in the L’Arche community. Adam had joy just because he was precious to God. He didn’t “earn” the joy (or God’s favor) by serving God, he just was with God. Adam taught Henri – and us – how to live.
There is a joy in giving, a joy in serving, a joy in thinking of others – and helping those who are desperately in need – and a joy in the telling of what God is doing. There is a joy in community, in sharing with others, in empathy, in rest, and in the productivity of work that is hard and outside of our comfort zones. There is a joy in seeking out new groups of friends, new places to minister, while continuing with the old. (This year I’ve loved continuing to be part of a Young Life Capernaum life group with developmentally disabled young adults, and also starting to teach 4th and 5th grade Sunday School at Creekside. Both are sometimes a challenge, but also a joy!) There is a joy in being right where God wants us to be, but also being shown where we can grow. And there is a joy in the hope of Advent, in the hope of Jesus’ return.
What is your joy? What do you remember? What are you experiencing right now, and what are you looking forward to? Who is your hope?
May you have inexpressible joy in your lives this Christmas and beyond.
Kelly Humphreys can be reached via email.