Sunday, April 06, 2008

Happiness, joy, love, and other stuff

Allan taught Sunday school today. I like it when Allan teaches. He jumps right in and asks the questions with such a direct, in-your-face style. There was a time I didn't understand his personality (one might even say it made me bristle). Now, I feel like I can't get enough of the guy. He was firing off questions, right and left, and I was firing off responses. It felt like a drill you do in elementary school when you're trying to memorize your multiplication tables. It was fun.

There were a few times I had to look up to the ceiling, staring at the stained tile that needs replacing. I had to look up to draw my mind to a deeper place, to contemplate the answers that didn't come as easily.

Here was an interesting question: Did Jesus have joy? It seemed like a silly question at face value. Of course! we all chimed in. "Yeah, then why don't they mention it in the gospels?" We asked him what it would look like if they did. He said, "It would say stuff like, 'Jesus was hanging out, cracking jokes with the disciples.'" Several of us, present company included, made attempts to equate different passages in the gospels to "Bible speak" for "Jesus was goofing around." It seems incredulous to suppose that Jesus didn't have joy, but I have to admit, Allan has a point ... where are all the goofing off stories?

Yeah, I know he's depicted eating with the "sinners." Presumably he was relaxed, laughing, having fun with them. The joy is inferred, but that wasn't what Allan was looking for. "It talks about his love ... love, love, love. But where's the joy?" That's simple, the joy is a by-product of love. The author of the study we're doing went so far to say that joy is not an emotion for God, it is a part of his character. Thus Jesus, as the embodiment of all things God, was the embodiment of joy.

The lesson was supposed to be about happiness and joy. The lesson's author made the point that Christians have a bad habit of wearing pasted-on smiles and then wonder why no one wants to join the party. Where's the joy? Question: Can you make yourself be joyful? (No, that would fall back to the pasted-on smile syndrome.) However, the absence of joy should trigger a response; a self-examination; a series of questions that point to the same end: If I'm not feeling joy, how come?

Well, one of the reasons we came up with was human frailty. We forget that joy is the "in spite of" emotion instead of the "because of" one. We let the "stuff" in the background take up too much of our energy, allowing the pressures of life to squeeze the joy out of us in the same manner you squeeze that last glunk of toothpaste from a near-empty tube.

Another reason was disconnection. (This is closely related to the reason listed above.) We've lost our connection with God, either because of life's demands or a gradual wandering away or a terrible tragedy.

Finally, we get in the habit of being joy-less. Somehow, we convince ourselves that this is OK, although I don't know how that's possible.

I believe there were more reasons stated, they just aren't floating to the top right now.

Can you force yourself to love someone? Well, Jesus commanded us to love one another, so, yeah, you can. But you can't force yourself to like someone; or you don't have to like them. That's good news! Yet I'm finding lately a peculiar, giddy kind of joy from not only loving but being really nice to people who either don't care for me or who think I don't care for them (or someone pooped in their oatmeal, or their momma didn't hug them enough, or something). It feels like this: "Hey (giggle) I'm loving you (giggle) and you can't stop me! Go ahead, try to stop me, you can't!"

Loving with reckless abandon is an absolute kick. I wonder why it took me so long to discover that one? And although we don't have to like everyone, we sometimes find that eventually, those persons we have chosen to love who fall into this category -- we can even like them, too, in spite of themselves (and ourselves).

When Sunday school was over today, I called out to Allan, "Hey, Allan -- great job. I love you buddy!"

I walked into worship. I saw someone who can be difficult to love sometimes. I had an extra spot next to me. I patted the seat and motioned her over. Her response was ... extreme gratitude and relief. She needed that love big-time today. Shame on me for withholding it from her previously; withholding it from anyone, for that manner.

God, the author of life, the giver of love and all good gifts, wants us to love one another and experience that wonderful by-product called joy. It may not say in outright in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John's accounts of Jesus that he was a joke-telling, knee-slapping, rolling on the floor with laughter kind of guy, but I think he was. And that gives me joy.

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