I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems too me there’s an awful lot of talk about joy this time of year. December. The Christmas season. The Christmas carols. It’s even gotten into marketing, the joy of this, the joy of that. It seems we all want joy. But for all the talk, where do we see joy and how do we get it? More joy in our life. More joy in our relationships.
In this episode, and the next, I want to talk about joy as a gift we can give ourselves. We can give this gift to ourselves, not by manufacturing it, but instead by stepping outside of ourselves and entering into the joy other people are experiencing.
People in the midst of joy are almost always willing to share it, because there is plenty of it to go around. It’s not a zero-sum game, where if I share some of my joy with you, it decreases the amount left over for me. It’s just the opposite, in fact. The more you share in my joy, the more my joy multiples.
I’ve heard people say, “I need more joy in my life,” followed by speculating what they can do to experience it. Joy is not something to go looking for. Joy is something you wait to come to you. Because the harder we work at finding joy, the less likely we will experience it.
To make it easier for joy to find us, we need to have an open and receptive heart to the joy happening around us – joy that doesn’t involve us. But that’s difficult for some of us when we see others experiencing the joy we lack.
A number of years ago a missionary couple came to see Janet and me for debriefing of the last term of service in a Latin American country. One of the issues that came up was the disease of envy that had infected their team. It seems that one year in December, the parents of our missionary friends unexpectedly, and generously, bought plane tickets so this couple and their kids could fly back home to the States to spend Christmas with family.
Their teammates responded, in one form or another, with “It must be nice.”
Rather than sharing in the joy of this unexpected blessing, people chose to turn inward and focus on the absence of this blessing in their life.
A more virtuous response would be “Yeah, I wish someone would buy plane tickets for me. But no one is, so the next best thing I can do is share in the joy of my friends . I’m not a victim here. I can actually be happy for them. I can fill in for them, and take over some of their responsibilities while they’re gone so they can enjoy their time away, and not think about what is happening back here. I can experience vicariously the joy of their anticipation of this wonderful gift they have received. And in doing so, I give myself a gift of joy in sharing in their joy. Because some day, my turn may come, and while I’m waiting, I’ll be an active participant in their joy now .”
This is what I talked about in episode 4, “The Gift of Even Though,” about my friend Vern. He could not have children of his own, but it didn’t stop him from experiencing the joy of my child. Rather than turning inward with envy, he shared in my joy.
Whenever we turn inward, joy will not find us. Envy and joy are like oil and water; they just don’t mix.
For joy to find us it helps to be keen observers of the human condition. To be on the lookout for what is happening in our relationships all around us. Even our relationships with complete strangers. For when we notice what is happening to other people, we’ll see both sorrow and happiness. We’ll see boredom and energy. We’ll see remarkable kindness and unspeakable horror. And every now and then, sometimes when we least expect it, joy will find us and call us over to take a look at something good that’s happening. It’s a great gift we can give ourselves.
I have a story to share about how joy found me recently
While quickly scanning through Facebook the night of November 26, 2018, something popped up on my screen that I wasn’t looking for. It was the video clip of the landing that afternoon of the Spacecraft Insight on Mars that had just completed the journey it started on May 5th, 6 and ½ months ago.
The video showed the control room of the Jet propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. with what seemed like a hundred scientists dressed in matching company-issue burgundy shirts. Tension was written all over their faces. The success or failure of this $814 million project years in the making would be known in just a few minutes.
As the spacecraft descended into the atmosphere of Mars at 12,300 mph. All wondered, would it survive the intense heat? Would it perform autonomously the dozens of operations it needed to successfully complete in order to land? Could it slow down in the 6 and ½ minutes descent from 12,300 mph to land on the surface of Mars at just 5mph?
There’s complete silence in the control room, except for the woman scientist in charge of announcing the descent through the 80 miles of Mars’ atmosphere.
“2,000 meters. 600 meters. 400 meters. 200 meters. 80 meters. 60 meters. 30 meters.17 meters. Standing by for touchdown.”
Then silence. Complete silence. For a longer-than-I-can-stand-it period of quiet.
Then it happened. At exactly 2:52.59pm EST, the joyous words “Touchdown confirmed.”
The control room exploded with JOY.
The cheers go up. High fives are exchanged. Hugs are given all away around. Tears of joy drip down their faces, and mine too. It’s pure joy.
As I watched this YouTube video that popped upon my screen, I couldn’t help but think that God was enjoying this moment of Joy too. Much like a dad watching his toddler in her early days of walking. Letting go of the chair in the living room to take the risky journey across the floor without a support to lean on.
I imagine God thinking to himself, “Just look what they did, that human race of mine. I gave them numbers, centuries ago. And they took those numbers, and put them together in remarkable ways, to create something out of nothing. And that something showed them how to get to something I created out of nothing. My planet. Mars. I am so proud of them for using what I gave them to explore even more what I’ve created. What joy!”
One of my favorite authors is Anne Lamont, and she describes things like this as “God showing off.” Showing off in the best sense of the word. He’s God showing off the magnificence of Mars, at the same time he’s showing off the ingenuity of man to take numbers and use them to send a spacecraft traveling 6 months into space, knowing exactly where it was going, exactly where it would land, and exactly at what time it would land.
That was a Monday afternoon like no other. Yet by the Tuesday evening news, the event was forgotten by the rest of the world. It just vanished. That’s how it is with joy. It quickly leaves us, like a hummingbird after feeding off the nectar of a flowering plant in our backyard. But then, when we least expect it, another moment of joy appears, and we savor it, and hold onto to it as best we can, making a deposit in our memory bank.
What brought me joy that Monday evening was watching the scientists in the control room and how they all jumped up and erupted in euphoria when those words came over their sound system, “Touchdown confirmed.”
My joy came from watching them and thinking about them and what they must be going through. I wasn’t looking for joy. It just popped up on a Facebook feed. It called me over and said, “Hey, take a look at this. You’re going to love it.” And I did.
Which leads us to the main take-away from today’s episode, our show summary in a sentence
We can transform our relationships when we join in the joy others are experiencing, even when their joy has nothing to do with us. It’s a great gift we can give ourselves.
We can respond to today's episode by trying less to manufacture our own joy, but instead look around for the joy others are already experiencing. And then step out of our world for a time, in order to enter their world so we can share their joy
Coming up next week
In next week’s episode, we will look at part 2 of ” The Gift of Joy.” It’s an episode a few days before Christmas that brings together, both atheists and people of faith, on something they can agree on.
Quote of the Week
Real joy never originates from within; it must come from without. Searching for joy within you is like searching for the ocean within a droplet of water.
~ Mel Lawrenz, Christmas Joy, page 18
Resources Mentioned on today’s show
Sorge, Bob. Envy – The Enemy Within. Grand Rapids, MI. Chosen Books, 2003.
YouTube video, Landing of the Space Craft InSight November 26, 2018