Thanksgiving, part 4 of 5

Happiness and joy

I’ve found it challenging to come up with a really good analogy for the difference between happiness and joy. On the outside they appear the same, but they’re not. They definitely have some things in common. Hmmm….

How about this.

Happiness is like a candle.
It gives light.
It makes life better.
It is good.
But it can be blown out.

Joy is like the sun.
It gives daily light.
It sustains life.
It is very good.
It can’t be blown out.

Happiness can be fleeting or long-term. Fleeting happiness—from a burst or high-point—comes from circumstances. Long-term happiness comes from rightly-oriented thankfulness—a state of mind that results in a state of living.

Joy, on the other hand, is only long-term.

Can you be happy, but not joyful? Can you be joyful, but not happy? As we walk through Ponder Park today and look at these beautiful, refreshing ponds—Happiness and Joy—I think we’ll find the answers. Before our stroll in Ponder Park, we’ll do some listening, we’ll check out Memory Lane, and we’ll take a look at Transformation Tunnel.

Please join me in listening again to the song I listed at the end of Thanksgiving, part 2—“In Reverence” by David Tolk. What a gentle, peaceful way to begin our reflections on happiness and joy.

The two kinds of happiness
Have you ever had a precious pet who adored you? Let’s walk down Memory Lane with two of my pets.

My cat Phoebe experienced bursts of happiness—when we gave her ice cream in a bowl and when she was feeling playful. But in general, she was fearful. Mean children abused her as a tiny kitten—pouring hot wax on her and pulling out her fur, breaking her tail, etc. A colleague of mine rescued her from that situation and brought her to our office in a box. I took her home that day. She was rescued from her nightmare at a very young age, but she remained—for the most part—afraid to relax and get close.

Many years later, after Phoebe had died, we adopted my dog Shiloh when he was two-and-a-half years old. He’d spent the last 18 months in an outdoor kennel at a rescue organization. He was outside, with very little human interaction, for a very, very long time. When we went to meet him (and several other dogs we considered), he jumped right into my lap and kissed me. Shiloh had been through a hard time. His first owner had surrendered him after he got heartworms, and he spent a very long time without a family. But Shiloh was always happy, snuggly and loved giving me hugs and kisses, until he was near death. Even then, he was so sweet—just confused and hurting. Shiloh was my real-life teddy bear. After every meal, he always came and gave me a thank-you kiss. What a sweetheart.

Compare and contrast
Phoebe and Shiloh both suffered—one for a short time; one for a long time. One never got over it. Phoebe only experienced bursts of happiness in a fearful life. Shiloh was full of gratitude, love, trust and was the epitome of long-term happiness.

Are you a Phoebe or a Shiloh?

Is it possible for us to be transformed from being afraid, like Phoebe? Afraid of ourselves and/or of what other people will think, say or do? Can we be transformed from being fearful to being courageous and peaceful?

Yes. This remarkable transformation—a trip through Transformation Tunnel—is possible. I know it is, from personal experience. The transformation isn’t about self-help or behavior modification. It’s about new life through Jesus Christ.

For some of us, the transformation is instantaneous. For most of us, I suspect, the growth into courage and peace is gradual, as we heal and as we walk in the truth—experiencing the renewal and rebirth of our minds.

Heart problem
When we’re broken and separated from God, we have a serious heart problem. And I’m not talkin’ about arrhythmia—irregular heart rhythm. I’m talkin’ about something much more serious.

New problems
Self-help and behavior modification don’t fill the emptiness in a life without God, our Creator. They don’t fix the original problem. Substitute “gods” like money, a significant other, success, busy-ness, popularity, hobbies, power, friends, sex, control, addictions, etc., don’t fix the original problem either—the heart problem. In fact, they add new problems on top of the original problem—life without God.

The original problem can be one of two flavors: (1) the I’m Pretending You Don’t Exist flavor or (2) the I Don’t Want You Telling Me What To Do flavor.

The original problem
The original problem was either (1) our denial of God’s existence or (2) our acknowledgement that he exists, but our decision to do our own thing. “No thanks, God. I’ve got this life thing figured out. I’m not a big fan of Your Way. I like My Way better. Toodles.”

Those of us who spent time in the second category—The Toodles Types—lived with this bizarre hope that we’d be smarter than God—that we’d somehow avoid the natural consequences for our own screw-ups and experience a magically-fantastical life without knowing God and without following his wise, loving guidelines. Been there; done that. I didn’t get down on my knees and call out to God until I was 33, and I did plenty of messing up before then. Plenty.

Enslaved by freedom
It seems to me that life without God is full of lies… the lie that we don’t need God; the lie that a life without God makes us free; the lie that we can and should do whatever we feel like doing; the lie that life will turn out great with me, myself and I in charge; the lie that we won’t be affected by our sins—the things we do that are wrong.

The biggest lie of all is the lie that we’ll be truly happy if we follow our deepest desires—if we do what we feel like doing all the time. “Follow your heart.” “Be true to yourself.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

In reality, we become slaves to desires, whims and addictions that are bad for us, that are absolutely contrary to God’s good plans for our lives. After chasing and acting on those cravings and thoughts/ideas/suggestions/lies, we’re shocked to find ourselves filled with regret and shame, feeling anxious and/or depressed—not blissfully happy and fulfilled like the Disney movies and everyone in the pop culture promised.

Here’s a tip from yours truly—something the Pop Culture Propaganda Pushers don’t want you to find out. God doesn’t lie.

If it’s time for you to give your heart and life to Jesus for the first time or for the first time in a long time, get down on your knees and pray to him. I’m not going to script the actual words for you. Call out to him from your heart.

♦ Confess with your mouth that Jesus is the son of God, who sacrificed himself on the cross to pay for your sins and was raised from the dead by God on the third day.
♦ Tell him what you’ve done wrong.
♦ Tell him that you need him.
♦ Tell him that you’re ready to turn away from your sinful, selfish ways.
♦ Ask him to forgive you.
♦ Tell him that you’re giving your heart and your life to him.
♦ Ask him to transform you and guide you.
♦ Tell Jesus that you’re receiving him as your Lord and Savior.

In a nutshell—believe and receive.

Last, but not least, thank Jesus for saving you and giving you a new life. Thank him every day….

Peaceful Reader, if you prayed that prayer, let me welcome you heartily to the family of God. I’d be honored if you’d let me know about your decision.

When our son Logan decided to give his heart to Jesus, I told him it was the most important decision he would make in his life. He smiled. So did I. Actually, I did much more than smile. My joy bubbled over. I did a Happy Dance in our life group (i.e., our Sunday school class) the following Sunday. I really did. I stood up, and spun around and around. Woohoo!

Happiness vs. joy
Happiness is a great thing. Don’t get me wrong. But there’s something even better….

The state of mind
What’s the difference between happiness and joy? I see happiness as a state of mind. During seasons of tragedy in our lives, happiness is fleeting or is simply gone for a while due to the weight of the trauma or loss we’ve experienced. Our prayers of thanksgiving turn to prayers where we’re sobbing “Help me!”

The state of being
Joy isn’t just a state of mind or a state of living. It’s a state of being, which is profoundly different—deeper, constant, enduring. The key to joy—regardless of your circumstances—is knowing and loving Jesus. Happiness isn’t permanent, because sometimes we aren’t saying thank you; we’re just begging for relief.

Can joy be permanent? Yes.

The verse and the connection
Reflect on this verse:

“…for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10b, New Heart English Bible

What’s the connection between joy and strength? And it isn’t just I’m-feeling-good-about-myself, Woohoo! or How-‘bout-it joy. It’s the joy of the Lord. The joy that comes from the Lord. Think about that.

Let’s take a short detour down a painful road to see if we can find the answer.

What’s the connection between
the joy of the Lord and strength?

The shocking loss
Did I experience joy after our baby died? Hmmm. Let’s see…. I felt a deep sense of shock, anguish, loss, anger and more. I felt physically pained and numb at the same time.

Logan was two years old when Joshua died (second trimester delivery). Fairly soon after I got home from the hospital, I recognized that Logan needed me in all the ways he’d needed me the day before, the week before, the month before. I experienced great joy in loving him—reading to him, eating with him, baking banana bread for us to enjoy together, playing with him and being the mom he needed. Our sweet Logan exuded joy. What a smile. What a laugh. What funny expressions. I didn’t want to lose myself in what I’d lost and miss out on what was right in front of me.

Can you smile, sing, dance and play even when you’re grieving? Yes. You can. It’s hard and it’s exhausting because of the weight of the pain you’re carrying. But the answer is true. Yes. You can.

(We’re almost done with the posts about our first topic, sociopaths. Our next topic will be grieving.)

The mantra
I received a positive mantra to run through my mind to help me get through the grieving process:

Make every day beautiful.

I chose to think my mantra throughout each day, to help me embrace each day as an opportunity to create something beautiful, even during dark times. I didn’t ignore the grieving that needed to be done, but I didn’t ignore the joy, the smiles, the hugs, the kind words I needed to speak—the opportunities to love—that were right in front of me. Giving love to Logan gave me joy. Tangible joy. Daily joy. Being loved by Jesus and loving him gave me joy. Very tangible joy. Every day.

Knowing that Joshua was with Jesus in heaven and knowing that I would see him again brought me great peace during a very painful time. It still does.

The answer
When do we need strength the most? When life is smooth-sailing or when we’re in the middle of a storm?

We need strength to move successfully through the storms of life.

I’m still thinking about the answer to that question about the connection between joy in the Lord and strength….

Does it take strength to give of yourself when you feel like retreating? Yes. Does it take strength to receive, think and speak a positive mantra about investing in life when the world gives you permission and encouragement to check out? Yes.

Good gifts
Am I tooting my own horn here? No. I’m tooting God’s horn. God gave me joy in him—a deep, abiding, trusting state of being so I could listen to the still, small voice—the indwelling Holy Spirit. Joy in the Lord gave me ears to hear the still, small voice and eyes to see the truth—the joy and the beauty of loving, of the simplest acts of motherhood—and he gave me the strength to keep going.

God gave us Logan. God gave me the mantra. God gave me—eventually—the eternal perspective about Joshua. God gave me joy in him first, which gave me the strength to give love to our precious son, which gave me even more joy—and healing.

Every good gift is from him.

Coming next: Stay tuned for part 5 of Thanksgiving. I’m likin’ it, big time. You’ll read about our very different Thanksgiving this past year and my dream on Thanksgiving night. Tremendous. Gifts extraordinaire.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Today’s passage, Romans 8:28-39, is a powerhouse—filled with truths that bring strength, courage and peace.

Song for Healing: Well, Peaceful Readers, this post was a big one, so I’m including two songs instead of one. Enjoy….

“Let It Be Jesus” live at the Passion Conference, featuring Christy Nockels

“Waiting Here for You” live at the Passion Conference, featuring Christy Nockels

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