Last Summer, Inside Out, an animated Disney film for children made it’s debut in movie theaters. As usual, the Disney storytellers skillfully wove a soulful message for adults into the script. The movie opens with a young girl, Riley, and her family leaving all they’ve ever known to move from Minnesota to California. The story engages when it zooms into the conversation of varying voices in Riley’s head. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust entertain as they interact with wit and humor. For Riley, Joy is in the driver seat. Joy, the one who always looks on the bright side of things. Joy, the one who always sees the glass half full. Joy, the voice fully committed to keeping everything in control and positive! Honestly, Joy was a bit exhausting to see in character form.
When Sadness appeared on the screen, I immediately recognized her melancholy. It made me giggle a bit. I totally get her. The one who feels deeply about a lot of different situations and scenarios. She’s the one who, similar to Eeyore, sees the gray cloud in every situation. Throughout the movie, Joy attempts everything in her power to keep Sadness at bay. As the story unfolds, Joy and Sadness have to work together. Sadness is the bummed-out sidekick slowing Joy down. Joy is the fast-moving friend aching for Sadness to “get over it”. When another character in the movie experiences a crisis and Sadness is able to comfort him, Joy begins to see Sadness in a whole new way.
I, like Sadness, have a natural slant toward seeing the emotional pain people carry in their lives. Life weighs heavy at times and an upbeat outlook is nowhere in sight. Because of this, I’ve had moments of feeling taunted by this “joy” urging me to “let it go”. Joy, with it’s whimsy and delight, has become a hot, marketable entity on bookshelves and radio. Joy keeps proclaiming, “Everything is okay, just keep going. Just spin it to the upside; change your perspective.” But as much as I want to, I’m unable to merely flip a switch and consistently claim joy.
It hasn’t helped me noting joy is listed as a “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians. If I am hanging with Christ and abiding in his love, aren’t I to grow more joy? For a while, I’ve wondered, “What am I missing? Why can’t I be full of joy and kick sadness to the curb?” I attempted to ignore any inner struggle and only focus on pleasantries. But denying my inner struggle only led to ignoring an important part of my soul. This did not lead to more joy.
This is where being in community with others helped to change my focus. Knowing a variety of people, I noticed that only few have what I believe, is the gift of joy. The gift of joy is the person who, as my friend Kristen says, has WOO. WOO stands for Winning Others Over. The people with this joyful WOO seem to attract others like bees to honey with their natural jolly disposition. They are a charming, sincere good time. They arrive with a smile, share their stories, laugh heartily and include all. But clearly, we can’t all have WOO.
This is where I observed others exhibit joy through their life’s focus. I consider a church member, Ken, who has gone through unbearable cancer, medical treatments and hospitalizations and shares his story of God’s goodness at the center. I think of my friend, Roger, whose faith walk is humble and true, joy the essence of his storytelling. I see it in Jane, who even through grief, greets my family with a warm smile and huge hug.
Hanging out with people who’ve experienced difficult trials and tribulations, yet focus on Christ’s love, helped develop a differing view of joy than I previously had. These friends never claimed “Everything is okay and I’ll just keep going.” Actually, they recognized their heartache, shared their struggle, but had a deep, abiding content nature that God was with them. This is where I spotted holy joy.
This holy joy comes in the gift of the Christ child. Holy joy is not a manufactured joy where we sweep everything under the rug, continue on and keep smiling. No, Jesus joy always comes with trial and tribulation. It’s the story of the gospel… there is suffering and out of the suffering, arises God’s presence. When we come to recognize Christ’s presence in our suffering, holy joy exudes. It doesn’t look like an enormous smile; rather it flows like deep trust. Holy joy recognizes Jesus’ experience of suffering. He, of all of us, understands. Yet, out of His hardship followed resurrection. And, so it is for us.
This week, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child, may we anxiously await the holy joy headed our way. A joy that reminds us sadness and grief are part of life, but Christ has the final say. Amen.
“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:20-22
Read this passage slow. What word or words stand out to you? Reflect on this word(s) for your own life. Consider writing about it on a napkin, a post-it, a journal entry, a note card. Carry it with you for the week and see what else arises.
Name a time when sadness and joy were both present in a situation.