Protecting Joy!

“Protect your joy!” The first time I heard my friend and colleague Bishop Prince Singh say these words I was intrigued. This was in part because my friend is a wise, thoughtful person who does not make a practice of passing on Pollyanna platitudes. And more importantly, I know that he, like many of us, has his share of both personal and professional challenges.

A little perspective on joy:

• An emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing something we desire, it is a state of happiness or contentment – Webster

• “Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is triggered externally – when things are going well, when life is good. But joy, it seems to me, comes from within. You can know joy even in the most appalling circumstances. Joy comes from within, and Paul tells us that joy is a gift from God, one of the gifts of the Spirit – a gift which is there for the asking.” – Br. Geoffrey Tristram, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

• The most poignant words that Jesus of Nazareth speaks about joy are embedded in his words around love. Between “abide in my love” and “that you love one another as I have loved you” are the words “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

What seems to be clear is that joy, as it were, belongs to us. Something evokes, prompts, precipitates a deep emotion within us. And as such, what my friend and colleague is suggesting is that we have the agency to protect, guard, hold fast to that which brings us joy regardless of what comes our way from others or circumstances. 

There is in my experience another dynamic at play with joy and that is a reflective openness that brings an awareness of the joy that dwells in us. St. John Chrysostom says it best, “An opened heart is boundless; that is, unconditional in its scope. Once we are awakened to love as the lifelong purpose of our hearts, then feeling love for all the world becomes the meaning—and greatest joy—of living.”

In the end what I know is the gift of joy dwells deep within us as the manifestation of love that is ours to cherish and to share with others. 

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything – Julian of Norwich


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