I couldn’t tell you when it occurred, but joy’s gone missing. It was last seen as a fruit of the Spirit, but I see no trace today. Honestly, I’m not surprised, but It’s still very saddening. Sure, joy doesn’t fit in with the American dream or name it and claim it. Sure, joy’s a threat to our culture’s attitude of incessant progress and work mentality. However, disappearance seems drastic, especially since joy is so misunderstood.

I’ll admit, joy is subversive. Joy throws out our knowledge of situations and circumstances and teaches us something completely different. Joy comes from peace which is something we strive for but aren’t really supposed to attain until we retire because it could hurt our competitive nature as well as our drive. Joy changes relationships as well. Basically, joy takes a life and turns it upside down. Or did we know that already?

Joy doesn’t care about your circumstances. Sorry to be so blunt, but it doesn’t. Joy is something that can be present in young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick. Even the rich made poor and the healthy made sick are not able to escape the guile of joy. In fact, it is often in the midst of hardship that joy begins work. It is in the worst of circumstances where joy takes root and begins to change a once normal person.

Joy isn’t happiness. There are so many times that I’ve heard people use joy when referring to happiness. I understand the confusion, but there is a marked difference that people need to understand. Happy isn’t dangerous. Happy doesn’t change people, turn heads or show up when uninvited. Joy does all these things and more. Joy definitely changes people. It does turn heads as anyone who’s seen a joyful person will agree. You can’t forget that person as the entire interaction you feel intrinsically something is off, different. Joy often shows up in places where happiness doesn’t belong. Grief, pain, illness, etc. are no place for happiness, but somehow joy seems to be incubated. This joy cannot be happiness.

“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.’” — John 16:20–24

Jesus is the source of joy. Why do we seek life among the dead here? If we are looking for joy, then we must find a source that is equally unchanging. One of the greatest radicals who ever lived is the only place where joy can be found. Joy was always meant to challenge what the world thinks normal. But, Jesus wants it for us. He wants us to exemplify this difference, but what He really wants out of this for us is to understand through it how much He loves us and how good He is. Joy, therefore, is an acknowledgment of His sovereignty and a constant rejoicing in that fact.

Despite Jesus’ intentions, joy’s gone missing. I don’t see it in me and I don’t see it much around me. It gets confused often for happiness, much to its chagrin. But, joy is far from happiness and that was always how God intended it to be. So, let’s let joy be itself and accept it for that. Once we do that, it’s time to go looking for joy. However, it’s not much of a search. We know where to find it. Once we do, we can’t be afraid to hold on.