So, joy is one of those ubiquitous terms we hear in church. People talk about it, claim its importance, sing songs about it, and some people have it down in their heart, or so they say. The problem comes in when we never really get a good explanation of what exactly joy is. It’s almost like a secondary trait. If you do x, then you’ll experience joy. If joy is in your life, then y will happen. Joy seems to almost always be described in its relationship to something else.
We feel like joy is closer to an attitude than a feeling. It’s very akin to love in that sense. But many times, joy is presented as just another term for happiness. Or maybe it’s listed as “true” happiness. We don’t think joy has anything to do with being happy, to be honest. Of course they can coexist, but joy can live right alongside sorrow as well. It's not unlike mourning the loss of a loved one, while at the same time smiling about how beautiful their life was.
For us, joy has been something we have had to forge. Yes, it sounds forced. That’s because it very much was. Without going into needless detail and making this a 16-page article, just understand that our marriage has had its fair share of hard times. Dark, cold, we-should-just-end-this-now times. On multiple occasions. We have had to put in a tremendous amount of hours and effort to save our marriage, and that’s something we’re quite proud of. Some may see that as turning the marriage into a forced fit, where you’re just making do with what you have and pretending to be happy. The truth is, a marriage takes that kind of work, and the people in it have to die to a lot of their own selfishness in order for things to succeed. And it has been because of this work that we’ve managed to create a sense of joy.
All of the fighting, counselling sessions, and nights of uncertainty can be destructive. Or, if you’re actually putting in the work and being vulnerable, they become healing. One of the biggest things we’ve had to learn is how to be genuine and vulnerable with ourselves and each other, how to be honest with and about ourselves. This forces a truly cringe-worthy level of self-awareness and introspection, but it is also the key to our joy. You see, it seems like joy is unobtainable unless you are truly being genuine. When did all of the work, and the inevitable result is that we are both being true, transparent and honest. Again, it has taken us years to mold into a place where this is our “normal,” but because of it, right now, when our lives are about the most chaotic they have ever been, we have found a true, deep sense of joy. Most nights feel like a marathon race to the bed so we can both collapse and start it all over again the next morning with less than enough sleep, but we have this incredible, bizarre sense of togetherness. And that’s the anchor of our joy: we know each other. We don’t hide who we really are.
And we don’t think this is something that you need to be married to understand. Joy seems to be linked to a certain amount of personal maturity (or innocence, to be honest) that allows a person to be genuine and true with themselves and others. That sense of “realness” opens us up to the joy God can bring into our lives. Any deviation from a true self seems to almost instantly extinguish that joy and bring in discontentment, resentment and all sorts of other “-entments.” But if we can learn to do the hard work of paying attention to ourselves and dropping whatever masks and crutches we’ve fooled ourselves into believing we need, joy becomes so much more accessible. And that is something worth fighting for.
Joe and Ashby were part of the original small groups that started Imago Dei. They have 3 kids and will celebrate 15 years of marriage in February.