For quite a while, that song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams was extremely popular to the point that people were making their own videos lip syncing to the song. It is a catchy song and I think everyone wants to be happy right? We do stuff we enjoy, spend time with people we like, and get a job where we hope to make a difference all with the intention of helping us feel happy. All of these activities are things we do; they are external things we to some extent feel we can control. Yet in life, there are so many things that happen to us that are sometimes of our doing and sometimes completely out of our control that aren’t good. How are we supposed to be happy then?
In Scripture, the word most often used isn’t happiness but “joy”. I began to consider why this is and I’ve come to learn that there is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is often dependent upon our circumstances. When life is going well, we feel happy. But when life isn’t going well, when circumstances around us are not good, we aren’t happy and yet as Christians, we are encouraged throughout Scripture to be joyful in spite of our circumstances. James reminds us in chapter 1, verse 2:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” How do we do this?
While happiness is often more externally dependent, joy on the other hand is internal, it comes from within our spirits and can be present in spite of the circumstances we might find ourselves in. I’m not speaking of a polly-anna fake happiness but a joy that allows us to continue to shine Christ’s light to others, to exude a warmth and a contentment regardless of what curveballs might be coming our way. It’s easy to get caught up in our circumstances; let’s face it, life can be really tough at times.
A year and a half ago, I was going through some rather difficult circumstances. I went to help my Dad take care of my mom who had advanced emphysema and was just starting home hospice. What the hospice workers thought would be a few short weeks turned into 8 weeks, all but 11 days of which I was there, four and a half hours away from my husband and kids helping take care of my dying mother and trying to be a comfort to my father. They were some really special times with both my mom and dad that I will treasure forever and yet they were some of the most horrible days of my life as I watched my mom cling to life here and her body waste away. Many days, although I was incredibly sad, I continued to feel joyful as I thought about how my mom would no longer be suffering, how her breathing would return to normal and how she would soon be praising God in person! I played Christian songs for her that spoke of the hope we have in Christ. I knew she was a believer and where she was going after she died and that some day I would see her again.
The promise of Christ, His saving grace, the encouragement and truth of Scripture, all of these things enabled me and enable all of us to feel joy in spite of what we face here on Earth. The key is we need to remember to allow those truths to be forefront in our minds and to keep our focus on Christ and Christ alone so we don’t succumb to the temptations that try to draw us away.