This past Sunday at Flood we concluded a series called “Happy Hunting”, about learning what it means to live a Joy-Filled Life. Please don’t stop reading— I know how it sounds. It sounds like a bunch of hysterical, perennially “happy” Christians trying to teach you how to never frown again. “This is how to keep a smile plastered on your face 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of your life!” I swear that’s not what I’m talking about.
Honestly the phrase “joy-filled life” usually reflexively evokes an eye-roll from me. I have seen too many books and heard too many sermons by that title, most of them proving to be extremely trivializing and reductive. As if even though your heart is broken, or you can’t pay your bills, or you have an incurable disease, you’re just supposed to be happy. Just BE happy, what’s the problem?
But I believe we need to reconstruct the definition of “joy”, because I don’t think this manically cheerful, borderline insanity is what joy actually is. Like I said in my post about grief and loss, if we’re to understand spirituality, or just living, we have to first acknowledge and embrace reality. Reality, as some of you may already know, is often times an actual piece of shit. Just the worst. From like, shitty upbringings, to shitty jobs, to shitty relationships… Life is really hard and sometimes really shitty. But the joy we aspire to goes deeper than that. It’s deeper than happiness and deeper than the sometimes-shittiness of reality. I think of it more like a deep well of steadiness, restfulness, and rootedness. Real, actual joy is grounding and stable.
In yoga, the teachers regularly talk about how part of the practice is learning to maintain an even state of being, or contentment, regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the uncomfortable position your body has been twisted into, or how long you’ve been asked to hold yourself up. We use our breath to return to equilibrium, to become healthily detached from the present. That is not to say that we ignore negative emotions as they surface—again the first step is facing the reality of our situations. But it helps in gaining perspective, and I think the peace, stillness, and contentment that comes from that practice in yoga is the same as the joy I talked about earlier. Living a joy-filled life isn’t a “Christian” thing, it’s a human thing. And you can call it whatever you want: peace, contentment, steadiness, satisfaction. I am on a personal journey to reclaim the word “joy” but please feel free to use whatever nomenclature feels good to you.
I can personally appreciate and attest to the fact that achieving joy is hard, and achieving joy in the midst of a difficult circumstance sometimes feels impossible. But I also believe that joy and unhappiness can exist in the same space, at the same time. We are big enough to hold both. Can’t tell you how yet, still figuring that one out for myself, but I’m sure it’s possible. I’m also sure that if we ever learn to live lives marked by joy, it will have taken our entire lives to get there, so I hope no one’s in a hurry. Just add it to the list of lifelong processes to work through, and be kind to yourself as you learn.