What (Really) is Joy?

laughingJoy. Can you picture it? What image comes to mind? What memory from your life? What does it sound like? Feel like? How would you define or explain it?

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune; a state of happiness or felicity; a source or cause of delight.”

The dictionary is onto something here. Joy certainly is associated with these feelings—and I love the idea of “felicity” and “delight.”

But joy, for the Christian, is something that runs a lot deeper than feelings or emotions. Dallas Willard explained joy as a “pervasive sense of well-being.” Something deep down within us, throughout us, that touches each part of who we are, echoing that we are well. In fact, in Christ, we are well even when life is going completely wrong. This is circumstance-defying joy.

In my research for Restore Your Joy, I came across something really cool. Here’s a short quote from the book: Chairo  is an important New Testament Greek word that means ‘to be glad and full of joy.’ Chairo is most often translated as ‘rejoice’; chara, a related word, is translated as ‘joy.’ Both are closely linked etymologically to charis which means ‘grace.’ As linguistic cognates, these three words ‘share the same root and therefore the same core (fundamental) meaning.’” 

Isn’t that awesome? Joy, rejoicing (worship), and grace are linked in their core meaning—they’re interconnected in the soul of the Christian. Joy can be present even in dark times because grace is there even in dark times. Grace itself defies the darkness—illuminates it and pushes the shadow into the corners. The brilliant grace of God forgives fully, offers hope, picks us up, renews our strength, affirms our worth, and empowers us to live fully. This is reason for joy!

Karl Barth is quoted as having written that “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” Now there’s a quote to ponder! Effusive, ringing, felicitious, abundant, generous, warming, enfolding, bubbling laughter. What a metaphor for grace!

We can choose to center ourselves in the grace of God – and this will lead us into deeper joy. We can choose to worship and rejoice in all God has done and is doing – and this gratitude fuels ongoing joy.

As I wrote last week, sometimes these choices come naturally. Happiness can be a heavenly gift that just flows through our life in felicitous moments. But it’s important to acknowledge as clearly as I can here that there are times when the emotional aspect of joy just won’t come. Sometimes it’s because of loss, mourning, pain, or difficult life circumstances. And sometimes it’s because of clinical depression. Many Christian women (and men) will go through periods of depression in their life—and that is NOT a reason for spiritual shame. (If it were, we’d have to cut Psalm 88 and many other passages out of the Bible!) If you think you may be facing depression, the joy-choice YOU can make is to get help. Be courageous to talk to a friend, your doctor, your pastor, and/or a counselor. Don’t try to hide it away or will it away or just pray it away. Receive God’s help through the help of others.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of life, from a bright and naturally happy time to a dark and dreary season, you can YET experience joy.

You can live in the laughter-grace of God.

Listen . . . can you hear it?


2 responses to “What (Really) is Joy?

  1. Love this! Especially this line, “The brilliant grace of God forgives fully, offers hope, picks us up, renews our strength, affirms our worth, and empowers us to live fully. This is reason for joy!”

  2. Love the interrelationship between joy, worship, grace–and two more things with the same root, thanks and gift. It’s hard to imagine a more powerful root word–char–that holds so many meanings. Thanks for these thoughts.

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