By Hal Green
Joy arrives at the same time you actually get something you have been seeking. It could be finally seeing and embracing a beloved friend or family member, after a time of missing them. As Charles Dickens said: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” Joy could come when receiving some longed-for good news, say of restored health or financial success.
Such human joy is relatively short-lived. Like a wave hitting a beach, it tends to pull back at about the same speed it first reached the shore of your soul. Even if you want your joy to stay longer, it does not usually agree. Like adapting to a pleasant smell, you get accustomed to it too quickly.
Then there is issue of the relationship between joy and sorrow. Surely, the one heightens the power of the other. The Sufi poet Rumi said: “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
Kahlil Gibran wrote in his classic book, “The Prophet:” “Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
The joy of the Lord, however, is a different kind of joy. As one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, this joy arrives immediately when you sense God in you and you in God. It resists pulling away. You can re-enter it most every time you pray, as a vivid memory that continues to reactivate itself, when you realize anew that God is in you and you are in God.
In his farewell discourse, Jesus told his disciples, shortly before he would die for us all:
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:19-20).
A little later, Jesus adds these vivid, extraordinary words of promise and hope: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete . . . Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 15:11; 16:20-22).
“No one will take your joy from you.” What an astonishing promise, given at that time, one of sadness and disbelief. Jesus is vowing to all disciples who will follow him: “You will have a joy that cannot be taken away from you, regardless of your circumstances.” Imagine having such a circumstance-free joy. This is possible only as a sheer gift of God.
So, here is a breath prayer: breathe in “God is in me,” and breathe out, “and I am in God.” Then let the joy of the Spirit slowly fill you with the truth, the power and the eternity of these glorious words.
(Hal Green, Ph.D., is author of Pray This Way to Connect with God. You can contact him at email@example.com.)