I had a poster in college that had a number of sayings on it. “Happiness is a choice” was one of them that has stayed with me. Yet I am now wondering if that is really true. There were many happy times in college and some that were not. Despite the unhappy times, my poster would suggest that I had a choice – to be happy or not. But what about happy or unhappy times that are often thrust upon us. One of those times came at the return of my first English paper. I worked hard on it and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever written. The professor handed it to me, ungraded. He said it wasn’t worth grading; emphasizing “worth” with his New England accent. It was hard to make the choice to be happy with that. Somehow I still got a “C+” in his class and thus started my love/hate relationship with writing. The next year, after finals were over, I had a great conversation sitting on top of the roof of our three-story residence hall with folks who are my friends to this day. We watched the sun rise on that June morning and pondered our futures. That was a happy time. Not much of a choice needed there but it is important to note that I could have chosen to be unhappy in the very midst of a happy time.
I think there is a difference between happiness and joy. Joy requires no choice. Joy happens. I didn’t choose joy when we walked off a plane at Sea-Tac airport with our newly adopted girls. Joy happened. There were a lot of elements about international adoption that required us to choose to be happy when circumstances could have taken us in a different direction. But, on that day, joy showed up. No choice required. When Ethan and Elijah were born, I didn’t have to choose joy. Unrestricted and free flowing joy just showed up.
Happiness may be a choice; but I think joy is a gift from God.
When the Wise Men saw the star in the sky, they were filled with joy. (Mt 2:10) They didn’t choose joy; it just came upon them like a gift from God. The father of John the baptizer was tending to his priestly duties one day in the Temple when suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared. The angel told him that his wife will bear a son and, “You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.” (Lk 1:14) The word for “joy” appears at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel in this passage and in the second to last verse of the Gospel. The disciples witnessed the risen Jesus ascend into heaven, “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (24:52) Same word, same gift from God. Saint Paul would probably agree with me. He wrote that the Spirit gives love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. (Gal 5:22)
I was told a simple formula if you are looking for the gift of joy. It is as follows.
J – Jesus
O – Others
Y – You
The gift that God gives us is in Jesus, in others, and experienced in you. Now that is something to be happy about.