Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 91:14
The anthem at church this Sunday was "Joy in the Morning". It spoke of the joy there would be "on that day", presumably the day when God would make everything right, and good and beautiful. I thought that what I really care about is the joy that I need, and try to find, and that indeed is available to all of us, every morning. I thought of my waking thoughts earlier that morning, and my ongoing reflections on joy versus happiness. It seems time to share them.
My struggles often seem the worst in the middle of the night, and the very earliest waking hours of the morning. Sometimes I come to a place of peace before I rise; other times it comes when I am upright and moving forward, accomplishing some simple tasks, and settling down to speak and listen to the Lord, through prayer and His word. This morning he reminded me through this scripture verse of His power to give me the kind of joy that lasts, that sustains and satisfies, whatever else is going on in my life. It is His love that gives us the power to "sing for joy and be glad all our days."
I remember the joy of singing His praises on Sunday evenings in the worship team I love so much. There I always truly know that God is present in His praises, that singing the words of His faithfulness indeed has power to change our minds and emotions. And that is one time where an external experience, of worship, can change what is going on in the inside.
But in general what I believe we learn in the Christian life is that it is joy, not happiness, that sustains us. In the poem called "The Gift", that I quoted last week, there is the line "You have a breath without pain. It is called happiness." (William Stafford) And happiness is like that. It is not something lasting; it depends on circumstances.
The insight for the day on January 29th in the Bible League's 2009 Devotional Planner highlighted this counterpoint:
Joy is not the same thing as happiness. The word 'happy' comes from the word 'happenstance', which means "a chance happening." Happiness depends on happenings. Joy is a state of being. It flows from the inside out. Let God be the well from which your joy springs - no matter what the circumstances. Have you ever felt joy even when you weren't happy?
This reminds me again of a principle that has become ingrained into my thinking through the words of a mentor. I was taught to recognize when I was looking to "happenings", events, improvements, relationships, changes in others and situations, to make me feel better about my life. The saying " If....were better I would be okay" has come to sum up a dependence on "happenstance" to bring me or others a sense of well being, okay-ness, safety or joy. Learning to let go of that dependence has opened me up more to the capacity to find true joy in living, even if I am not happy.
I believe that is what God is calling us to when He says, through Paul, to "Be joyful always." (I Thessalonians 5:16), or through the psalmist reminding us of His capacity to empower us to do that through His unfailing love.