So, I haven’t written in this thing for a while. First it was because I was too busy, then it was because of school, and now it’s because of lack of habit. It’s easy for one to forget how much they like writing when they don’t do it for a long time. But, last year around this time I wrote a blog post about my birthday, and one of my friends, Jess, told me that I should write another one for this year. I thought that was a grand idea.
What’s this about then you ask? Ha, well at first I was asking the same question. What to write about? The ultimate problem for writers everywhere. Just ask my friend Marryl. She’s committed to writing a blog post every Wednesday (like the champ she is), and sometimes she doesn’t know what to write. In those times, she resorts to having her friends take her phone and do their worst. I on the other hand, live about an hour away from many of my close friends, so I was stuck with doing this myself. But I figured it out. What I’m going to be talking about today is joy.
I had a lovely birthday this year. I invited a few of my friends who live far away to come hang out with me. We took the subway from Islington Station to Eaton’s Centre, had some late lunch, and then went off to Toronto Island to explore all that they had to offer. Lots of cool stuff apparently! There’s the obvious attraction of Centre Island of course, but there’s so much more. There are bicycles to rent, beaches to frequent (including a nudist beach for the more bold/shameless of us), and plenty of parks and greenery to enjoy, all whilst a quick ferry ride away from the urban jungle of Toronto. It was awesome. We took the train back and had a lovely dinner at Moxies, where my friends Rhiannon, Clarice and I shared the most heavenly brownie I have ever experienced. The white chocolate brownie.
Praise the Lord. It was so good. I came back home absolutely exhausted. But absolutely joyful.
But what is joy? What makes one joyful? I think joyful has a profound difference from happiness. My experience and my learning has taught me that joy is something deeper than happiness; that happiness is a fleeting sort of emotion while joy is stronger and holds for longer. Like I try to do in most things, I look to the Word of God for insight. There’s a single verse that comes to mind first, which I checked and saw is from Nehemiah 8:10. The verse goes like this:
“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”
Nehemiah 8 sees Ezra and Nehemiah reading the words of the law to the people of Israel. As they read, the people of Israel wept. Ezra and Nehemiah quieted the people by saying that the joy of the Lord is their strength. The people went away from that place ready to give to those who had little, and to eat and to drink. They also went away from there rejoicing. They received the joy of the Lord.
I want to focus on the last part here, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” All that does is beg another question: what’s the joy of the Lord? What is it about the Lord that gives me strength? The answer is deceptively simple if we think about it: what has the Lord given us that should give us joy? To make it easier, what is the ultimate gift he has given us? The answer: the cross, or in other words, grace.
Grace means a gift of something that we don’t deserve. As a Christian I believe that humanity is inherently broken. We go to war. We hurt people. We destroy our earth. We despise those who are different than us. We try to fix it, but history tells us we’re just a broken record. I find it so amusing how everyone these days thinks that we’re so enlightened. That we’ve learnt enough from our past enough to fix everything. You can see this especially in a university context. The reality is, every generation before us thought the exact same thing, and every generation fails, in one way or another. We’re so full of ourselves sometimes. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop trying to fix the problems of this world (heck, I’m an International Development student for goodness sake), but it does mean that we can’t change what we are, broken. What we fix will eventually be broken again. By broken human beings. As I believe it, we are sinful, and we need grace. We need so much of it. But sometimes it’s hard to see.
It’s easy to be blinded to our own deficiencies. After all, we live in a society of self-sufficiency and individuality. We sometimes gloss over our deficiencies, saying that we’re fine this way. We frame our faults in a way that makes them seem praiseworthy, if anything to cover up for our own insecurities. We’re insecure because we don’t want to confront that there’s something wrong with us. I didn’t think I needed grace for a long time. Ask most people: I’m about as self-sufficient as it gets. I’ve been able to do everything by myself for most of life, and do it well. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve really understood how much I need a Saviour. I was faced with the gravity of my brokenness, my failure, and my sin. That’s when I realized how much I didn’t deserve.
So, you guys are probably wondering how this figures into joy. So far I sound pretty doom and gloom right? But that’s the point. Sin is a criminal offence against the holiest of victims. Someone has to pay the price. That’s what justice is. Grace means that someone else has paid that price. Christ gave me a pardon, and now I’m walking free. And that is the greatest joy of all.
So, how does this connect back to my birthday, and feeling joyful? Well, people have told me that I’m unusually optimistic and happy, and, dare I say it, joyful. I thought about this for a second. I realized that hasn’t always been the case. You should have seen me in Grade 11. I felt crushed by the world around me; I felt like I was being constantly hit with all sorts of hits that I didn’t deserve. I was depressed and wallowing in self pity. I didn’t look at what I had already as a blessing, but instead looked at it as a given. I thought I deserved more. But over the past few years, I’ve learnt that all I have is a gift. True joy I’ve realized, isn’t in being happy or having things work out the way you want. Joy is realizing that you don’t deserve anything, but seeing that you get something anyways.
Joy is realizing that every gift comes from above. Gifts aren’t earnings. Gifts are things you don’t necessarily deserve. I deserve nothing, but I have so much. I have a loving family (especially a super attractive younger brother #bae).
I have amazing friends. I have enough resources to get what I need (not always what I want). I keep discovering new talents. I have the ability to do the things I love, like playing sports. I have a body that works remarkably well. I see all the things I have and all I can see now are blessings that I don’t deserve. As I enter this 21st year of life, I want to make sure I don’t lose that. It’s a blessing in and of itself that I know this. But it’s easy to forget. We human beings are so fickle and easily forgetful. But for now, I know that my God is great. I know that my God loves me. And that’s what allows me to live with joy.