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Happiness or Joy: Which Do You Seek?
"The joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10)
Do you seek the peace of joy, or do you find comfort in happiness?
Maybe you’re scratching your head right now. Happiness? Joy? Aren’t they the same thing? Indeed, they seem to be twin sisters with identical meanings, applications, and end results.
Yet there’s a crucial difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness is a feeling, a surface emotion and bubbling elation that something good has happened or will happen. Happiness and excitement go together, joining like two pieces of tied strings.
A person can be happy about eating pizza, viewing a sunset, or interacting with porn. However, this feeling isn’t joy, and it doesn’t last. In the case of perverse happiness—such as the external stimulation and excitement caused by sexual sin—the soul is left emptier and more deplete once the surface happiness vanishes.
In contrast, joy suffuses the entire beinghood of a person because it’s been implanted by God’s grace. It’s grafted into the vineyard of the soul by the Master Gardner, who prunes away the dead vines in order to allow the healthy shoots to bring forth the ripest harvest.
When we cooperate with the movements of the Holy Spirit, when we allow our lives to be pruned by His merciful love, we then come into full bloom. This allows our souls to ripen with the richest, most nourishing fruits.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
This grace—this true joy—is lasting. It doesn’t cause bubbling excitement, but peaceful contentment.
The peace the world cannot give.
This joy, this peace, is so engrafted within the soul that it can be felt even in times of trauma, difficulty and sorrow.
At all times, and everywhere, all things are well within the vineyard of the soul.
True joy is so enveloped in peace that, in many ways, the two words can be considered synonymous. It truly is the peace the world cannot give, the peace that comes only from Christ, our Divine Bridegroom.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Behold, I am making all things new. I have called you by name, you are Mine. My left arm is under your head, My right embraces you.
(John 14:27, Isa. 43:19, Rev. 21:5, Isa. 43:1, adapted from Song 2:6, 8:3)
Joy doesn’t consist in giddy excitement, like the fleeting euphoria of falling into earthly love. When we fall into Divine love, we’re wrapped in a mantle of peace, protection, and the enfoldment of God’s wings (Ps. 91:4).
This is a deep, abiding longing, the infused inflowing of the Holy Spirit. It’s a longing for the Beloved, the delicious tug and pull, the peaceful desire that can even be delightfully painful because it can never be completely satiated in this lifetime.
There are always more depths to sink into, greater heights to achieve: richer, more powerful, a vaster level of unitive intimacy with the Beloved. This culminates, finally, in seeing Him face to face— but such a glorious vision cannot happen in this lifetime. No one can see the face of God and live (Ex. 33:20, John 1:18).
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
(John 15:11, 16:24)
The joy of the LORD truly is our strength, for it fills us to overflowing with the stability of peace, with a sense of safety unattainable elsewhere in this unstable world.
One of the best examples of this infused joy comes from Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century English mystic. She had many reasons to feel despondent, hopeless, and to falter in her faith. Living during the time of the Great Pestilence—what we now call the Black Death—she lost nearly her entire family to the plague. Husband, children, friends ... Dead, dead, dead. Even so, in a mystical vision she heard and trusted in God’s divine reassurance.
And so our good Lord answered all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.
After losing as much as Job, how could she still have such tremendous faith in God’s reassurance? The optimism of Julian of Norwich may seem hard to grasp. How could someone who’d lost it all possibly be so confident, so filled with an otherworldly joy?
Julian knew the secret of Jesus’ heart, and she sheltered herself beneath His wings.
This otherworldly joy comes directly from the Holy Spirit. It’s reachable even when happiness is absent, when suffering is enveloping a soul in grief and tragedy. It’s an infused joy, unobtainable through our own efforts.
How, then, do we gain such joy?
(I Thess. 5:17)
First, we need to ask for this grace, with pure intentions and a clean heart (Ps. 51:10).
Second, we need to recognize that this infused joy is the fruit of love—divine love, reciprocal love, He for us and we for Him.
This calm, peaceful joy of the Lord is a grace and gift of Merciful Love, and comes from a surrender to what St. Thérèse of Lisieux calls the “Little Way”: to be a martyr of God’s merciful love and to want nothing more than to love Him as He deserves. It’s also a recognition that without Him, we have nothing.
Without Him, we are nothing.
The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to St. Catherine of Siena one day while she was at prayer, and said: “Do you know, daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you have beatitude in your grasp. You are she who is not, and I AM HE WHO IS. Let your soul but become penetrated with this truth, and the Enemy can never lead you astray.”
(Raimondo of Capua, The Life of Catherine of Siena)
To be recognize we “are not” and to rest in the truth that “God is the only one who is” brings refreshment and peace to the soul. We no longer have to rely on our own coercions to make life turn out the way we want. Instead, we can rest in the peace and reassurance that “all shall be well” as long as we follow His will and answer His beckoning call of divine intimacy.
This is the peace the world cannot give, and it far surpasses earthly happiness. This peace is lasting, live-giving, and soul renewing.
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