When JOY! is Hard to Find


UGH, this is a hard on194306_1_iocs_Joy2_125_per16_125_R2ne! JOY!  (Don’t you feel like it has to be followed with an exclamation point?) Telling people to find joy in the blessings no matter how small is not helpful and I would suggest it is even harmful and alienating, especially when we imply that joy is evidence of our spirituality and our resolve, as do the writers of the Christian website Theopedia. Their entry for joy is “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.” Following the above definition are a few ‘encouraging’ paragraphs about choosing joy and finding joy that include a whole lot of ‘shoulds’ that make me question the authenticity of the evangelical Christian perspective. Check it out: http://www.theopedia.com/joy   Honestly that doesn’t always work for me no matter how hard I try.

In the movie “Inside Out” Joy is the skinny, pretty one in a yellow twirly, flippy dress. I’ve always wanted to be Joy but if I’m honest I’m really more of a combination of Sadness and Disgust. Some days my zeal is heavy on the zzzzz’s and light on the (squ)eal’s. I am a champion napper, which is my way of shutting out all the voices and taking a break from too much thinking. I flee from negative feelings by hiding out in books, in my bed and even in busyness.

No amount of telling me that I ‘should have joy and count my blessings’ will change my attitude. I just want to embrace the disappointments and the negatives of life, see the world as it really is and, frankly, dwell in the pity party for a moment, take a nap, eat a pint of Chunky Monkey, bitch and moan a little and eventually give myself a pep talk and move on, slowly and with determination and without guilt about being human and embracing the fact that JOY! is not always an option for me. I want to smack this little elf right off her shelf, for real!

So, what do I do with the ‘fruits of the  Spirit’ when they’re not my ‘go to’? I’m tired of pretending and just ‘putting on the armor’….I know, mixing my scripture passages. I’m not good at putting on ‘joy’ and just smiling when things aren’t alright.

You know, I think sometimes in life Sadness and Disgust and even Anger are the appropriate emotions and we need to embrace them. Sitting with them for a bit serves to remind me that not everyone is JOY! Some of us struggle with choosing and living in the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘pretending’ and that’s okay. We’re the ones who can sit with others when joy isn’t around and be okay with a real life full of messy, hard stuff. I’ve sat with depression, death, dying, cleaned up diarrhea and cried with strangers; someone has to be there when joy is hard to find.

2 thoughts on “When JOY! is Hard to Find

  1. Amen! I agree that feeling that joy is necessary to people of faith is just a bummer and another source of guilt for some of us. However, I also think that part of the problem is dualistic thinking — I am a widow and I have learned that I can have grief and joy simultaneously; I can even have anger and joy simultaneously (though very rarely). I think joy is one of those tricky words. It’s not a skinny girl in a swirly yellow dress for me; if I am pressed for a personalization of joy, I would go with a mature woman, in a rocking chair on a porch at sunrise or sunset, wearing comfortable clothes with beautiful orange colors. So joy for me is quieter, not JOY! but just joy. But then, I am an older woman and so that probably has a lot to do with my less exuberant feelings of joy.


    1. Oh, this is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and caring enough to reach out. I totally agree with you about dualistic thinking and I am guilty of that too although I’m learning to embrace ‘both and’ as Fr. Rohr would say. Holding a space in the confluence of oppositions may be the moment of true joy as you have found.


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