Yesterday’s post had telltale signs of haste and hurry which are, themselves, threats to joy. How ironic that, in the rush to write about joy, I ran right past it!
At any rate, here’s where we left-off yesterday: A sure sign that we’re in the wearying grip of nonsensical expectations is a scarcity of joy.
Sometime back, there was a New Yorker in which a person faced a choice between two doors. One was marked Heaven; the other: Books about Heaven. We face similar choices: Life or Reflections on Life. Jesus or Beliefs about Jesus. Love or Essays on Love. Joy or Thoughts Concerning Joy.
We can breathe and bleed—exist–but never live. It’s possible to know about Jesus, but not to experience his friendship. It’s possible to describe love but never be swept-up in its ecstasy. We can wistfully witness joy, but never be carried away by its wonder.
Across my years of ministry, though I could talk about joy, I lived, too often and for too long, in an arid joylessness. New Testament scholar Leander Keck helped me understand my lack of felt joy:
“Perhaps we are more impressed by the problems of the world than by the power of God. Perhaps we have become so secular that we indeed think now everything depends on us; that surely ought to make us depressed” (The Church Confident, p. 41)
I admit it: there have been seasons when I’ve been more daunted by problems of the world and of the church than I have been confident of the presence and power of God.
On the night before his death, Jesus said to his friends:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Abide in me as I abide in you. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15).
Here’s an obvious thing: it’s impossible to identify a precise point where a grapevine ends and its branches begin. The vine is the branch; the branch is the vine. In the same way, there is a vital connection between Jesus and us. The energy of his life flows into us. We’re inseparably joined, co-mingled, and connected.
Out of that reciprocal abiding, we gain greater clarity about who Jesus invites us to be and what Jesus asks us to do. We learn to discern the difference between externally imposed expectations and the internally voiced word of Jesus.
We find the courage to say “no” to expectations which aren’t ours to meet, roles that aren’t ours to play, jobs that aren’t ours to do, and responsibilities which aren’t ours to carry.
We find the resolve to say “yes” to our callings, to the liberating truth of who we are, to the fullness of our experience, and, most of all, to love and joy from God and for God, from and for others, love from and for creation.
We’re tapped-in to the life of Jesus. Love and joy flow in us just as surely as blood courses through our veins and just as certainly as breath goes in and out of our lungs. The spirit of Jesus streams into every part of who we are, and makes us fully, wondrously, and gladly alive.