As we enter the Advent Season, the words from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen offer tidings of “comfort and joy.” But what are comfort and joy? How do we know when we’re experiencing them? And when we don’t experience their presence, how do we get comfort and joy back?
Over coffee the other day, my buddy Joe told me he felt happy. He was peaceful. Everything in his life was going well.
“I don’t know what to do with this ‘happy’ feeling,” he said. “I’m used to being worried about something or someone, angry at this or that, dashing to get here or there. But for the past few days I’ve felt calm, whole, filled with love and compassion for myself and others. It feels strange. Surreal.”
Like Joe, we have plenty of opportunities in life to call out the “Help!” prayer—Help me God to pass that test. Help me seal the deal. Help me or my struggling loved ones.
But what about those times when life is good? When everything seems to be going well? When there are no “issues” to contend with? Do we miss graced moments by looking for a new problem to resolve? Or can we experience happy feelings as part of the “comfort and joy” with which God wishes to bless us?
A mentor, Charm, told me years ago when we feel happy on an on-going basis, it’s actually joy we’re experiencing.
Joy, according to Webster, is a feeling of great happiness, pleasure or delight.
However, joy goes beyond and differs greatly from happiness. According to lifestyle mentor Rachel Fearnley, “Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.”
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Unlike the fleeting emotion of happiness, joy can even be experienced in pain or sorrow because we have the sense that God is with us, that we are held by Divine Love. Joy is rooted in the many emotions described in Galatians 5:22-23:
Charm taught me to name and embrace joy when I experience it so I don’t miss it. She said to place my hands on my heart and “receive it as gift.” Then, raise my hands to the sky and “lift it up to God with gratitude.”
Charm’s wise words have shaped and formed my heart. Although I still often fail to notice moments of joy, when I do, comfort fills me. At a family meal crammed with the sounds of clanging dishes and hearty laughter, I pause for a moment, smile, and wonder how I have been gifted with such an awesome brood. I sometimes even hear the soft whispers of my departed mother and father, and the tears that fill my heart are ones of both sorrow they are not here to share this moment and gratitude they are with us in the presence of Divine Love.
I wonder if this simple practice of noticing joy allows us to let go of fear and live our lives filled with love and thankfulness. When we receive joy and name it, we no longer resent serving others. We embrace giving as a heartfelt way of paying it forward. In the midst of our sorrow or anger we stop and listen to the whisper of love which guides us on the path toward deeper wisdom.
Joy helps us notice beauty without having to possess it or cling to it. Holding an aging parent’s hand or kissing their cheek reminds us of God’s love for us.
Joy helps us say with conviction, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need”— even if I don’t have everything I want.
Joy allows us to accept ourselves as we are, here and now. It invites our hearts to know, “I Am is everything I need.”
This Christmas season, amidst the chatter of family and friends, during the divine chaos of shopping for loved ones, and even while missing those who are not at our family tables, notice when you experience a tinge of joy. Then step back and recognize everything is right in your world—even if it’s not perfect.
When you notice comfort and joy, “Receive it as gift. Lift it up to God with gratitude.”
—brian j plachta