Joy vs. Happiness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

This morning I walked my daughter to school, I guess more accurately I walked 10 paces behind as she independently walked herself to school.  My daughter started middle school this year and I was advised that I couldn’t embarrass her.  So, I walked a safe distance behind and threw her a discreet kiss which was returned with a quick wave.  They sure do grow up quickly.  Once I knew she was safely school-ward bound; I proceeded to the track located in the rear of the school.  I am determined to get in an hour or so of exercise first thing in the morning.  As I walked the track, I listened to a Christian broadcast about rejoicing.  I thought that this would be an excellent topic for my post today.  So, I spent some time deliberating about exactly what “Joy” means to me.

"14.8M Americans suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, 40M suffer from Anxiety and another 6M suffer from Panic Disorder."

I know that there is a huge difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotional response to a situation or circumstance.  If things are going well, we feel happy.  When thing are going poorly, we feel sad.  In some cases, people fall into the depths of depression because of their circumstances.  When you consider the amount of people who have been displaced and dislocated because of the recession, you can almost begin to understand why 14.8M Americans suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, 40M suffer from Anxiety and another 6M suffer from Panic Disorder.  Sometimes, the trails of this world seem too much to handle.  It is difficult to be happy and remain happy with so many negative variables that can impact us at any time.  But joy is a different thing all together.  Jesus tells us plainly “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  As Christians, we understand that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and without the power of His saving grace, we can’t fully experience joy. 

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance”  (James 1:2-3).

So as I said, this morning I was deliberating about joy as my daughter went off to school.  I have to admit, that she brings me joy.  When I think about her humble beginnings, I’m filled with joy at what God is able to do.  On March 17, 1999, I delivered a 5 lb 8 oz beautiful baby girl.  I had to be induced a month early because I had excruciating pain from sciatica.  Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t develop the sucking mechanism so she wouldn’t eat (not from the bottle and definitely not from me).  As you can imagine this is not the ideal situation for a preemie.  My daughter immediately began to lose weight every day until her pediatrician sent us to the local hospital to have her admitted.  She arrived there weighing a whopping 5 lbs 2 oz and they promptly admitted her for failure to thrive.  I couldn’t understand why this was happening.  “Failure to Thrive,” that prognosis sounded so ominous to me.  I was devastated.   To make matters worse, I had just seen a news report about a mother who was arrested because she starved her baby to death.  Her defense was that she didn’t know she wasn’t producing adequate milk to sustain her infant.  I started blaming myself for allowing my Type A personality to drive me to continue working when I was supposed to be on total bed rest.  I was sure if I had done what the doctor told me then I wouldn’t have been induced and she would have developed fully.

"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you  hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11)

My mother stayed with me in one of the hospital rooms and we went to the neonatal ward every chance we got.  We prayed without ceasing, we rejoiced in the LORD and we stood on His promises.  The Scripture, "For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you  hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11) was my constant companion.  On one occasion, we visited as a nurse attempted to put in a feeding tube.  My daughter turned bright red and kicked and screamed; her little fists and feet flying everywhere.  I watched as the tiny tube snaked in one nostril and out the other.  I couldn’t take it anymore.   I asked the nurse to let me leave the room before she attempted it again.  But instead she said, “Let’s try the bottle first.”  At this point she had been in the hospital for almost a week and we had no luck getting her to nurse or take the bottle.  However, this time, she took the bottle and began to eat normally and soon after she began to nurse effortlessly.  I guess she figured the bottle was a much better option that the torture of that feeding tube.  She’s this way today; she’s still determined and doesn’t tolerate discomfort well.  When the doctor checked her out later that week, he proclaimed, “Get this healthy child out of here.”  Since then, we have been abundantly blessed.  We rejoice in the Lord because she didn’t fail to thrive; quite the contrary, she has thrived quite nicely, thank you.  In fact, she’s a bilingual honor student who loves gymnastics, Tae Kwan Do, playing the clarinet and independently walking to middle school.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight."  - Proverbs 3:5-6

I recount this story because it was a defining moment for me.  I understood in that moment - when I was totally helpless - all I could do was pray and rejoice in God's promises to never leave or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5) and to give me a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  It wasn’t about me being happy or sad with my situation.  I had no time to get depressed or dejected.  My joy had nothing to do with my situation but more with God’s power over my circumstance.  I had to learn to trust in the Lord with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding.  I had to acknowledge Him in everything.  I reJOYce because He certainly did make my path straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).  To me, this is the Joy of the Lord.  It is an understanding that no matter what it looks like in the natural; God has a plan to work it out.  He has a purpose for our lives and every situation that we go through is designed to strengthen us.

Have you experienced joy during or after a difficult situation?