Happiness. Our culture is obsessed with it. Life decisions and changes are determined by it. People are loved or abandoned, jobs are kept or left, foods are selected or avoided, all dependent upon this feeling. But what is happiness, truly? Is it what we actually want or need? I humbly submit that it is not. Instead, I believe all humans, whether consciously or subconsciously, are longing for and seeking something deeper. What they crave is much more stable and unchanging. It is JOY.
Wait isn't joy another synonym for happiness? Well, no. It's actually quite different. Happiness is defined by the English Oxford dictionary as the feeling of pleasure or contentment—an easily altered state dependent upon everyday factors. Once your situation begins to go downhill, happiness recedes. Joy, on the other hand, takes us to another level. It's a deeper state of unmovable contentment, a peace within your soul, despite circumstances. Joy can lead to happiness, but it's also very possible to feel great sorrow and still remain joyful.
How do we find joy? Do we need to read self-help books or surround ourselves with people we love or simplify our lives or spend more time outdoors or..... No. While very helpful, these are simply our culture's temporary and conditional solutions for subduing that inner cry for joy. We are fickle forgetful people, friendships can change, clutter will find its way back in, and though nature is awe-inspiring and nurturing to the soul, it too shifts and returns us to our shelters. You may experience temporary happiness. It may even last for a season, but it won't be long before that old uncomfortable feeling of discontentment begins to creep back in, making you question your situation and start the happiness hunt all over again.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with wanting or seeking happiness. As long as you know it won't last and, in my humble opinion, avoid making life decisions or determining your life's value based off this feeling.
If happiness is what we as a culture are accustomed to seeking, then no wonder we struggle with finding a deeper contentment. It has taken me, well... my whole life and I'm definitely still currently in a state of growing and learning.
Everyone's journey is their own, but mine has taken me time and time again to the one true source of joy. He does not change, waver, disappoint, or abandon. He is the Creator of all that is good, beautiful, and loving in this world and the rescuer of all that is dirty, horrible, and painful. His name is Jesus.
In my 29 years of living on this earth, I have found nothing else that takes me to this place of unexplainable joy and peace. I have gone through hard, painful, scary, frustrating, maddening, encouraging, sweet, and happy seasons, and through it all He has remained steady and sure. It wasn't until last year that I truly began to experience this joy and peace I speak of. It's unbelievably difficult to explain, but I'll try to do my best.
I always believed in Jesus and thought I had entrusted my life to Him, but I really hadn't. I was trying to control and order my life in a way that would guarantee my success, my happiness. I relied on voices from the past instead of His. Family, friends, teachers, coaches, bosses, etc. all impressed upon me their advice and life commandments. These rules and warnings all came from kind hearts, but were actually the conclusions of fearful and hurting people (most of us are!) and, as a result, often misguided. Unfortunately, my ears were only tuned to them, so I listened intently and adjusted accordingly. I built up walls of defense and strategically mapped out my life, crossing out sections to avoid or pursue. I did my best to do and say everything right. Risks were not an option. I played life safe and guarded. I was honest to an extent, but kept my true fears tightly locked up. The result? I was a tense ball of stress with chronic health issues that walked around with a smile, making sure everyone felt wonderful, appreciated, and loved. It looked perfect and felt terrible.
Last Fall I hit the bottom hard, for me. I was exhausted, discouraged, unhappy, confused, lonely, and hurting. Long story short, Jesus got my attention. I began to slowly tune out the voices of the past and release my tight grip on my perfectly mapped out future. My situation didn't really change much, but His gentle kind voice began to reign in my mind and heart and guide me through the muddy waters. As the new year began, He started leading me through scary doors that I had avoided for years. One door at a time, we walked hand-in-hand facing my fears and taking risks, healing my mind and soul in the process.
The healing is on-going, but the level of joy in my life has sky-rocketed. I am still, currently, facing circumstances that old-Jessi would have agonized and lost much sleep over, but, now, I can live lightly. That's the best way for me to describe it. I have a lighter soul. The weight of my troubles has lightened. This does not mean I don't have moments, days, or weeks that I am not discouraged or sad or confused, but the difference is that under it is this peace and joy that doesn't leave. It's a voice that gently whispers, "you're going to be okay. Do not be afraid. I have your right hand and I will help you. I will be with you wherever you go."
This is where I find my joy, in the deep soulful peace of Jesus. This is a God I can give my life to, a God I can rely on and trust with my future.
May you find rest and peace in this deep source of joy as well, my dear friends. I pray you will not wait like I did. Your journey is as unique as you are, but I hope Jesus enters it soon.
À votre santé!