by Shery Abdelmalak
A heart full of love and servitude for God’s children can only emulate joy. Think of events that have made you feel joyful. Do you think of adventure, travel, fun? Is it things that make you happy; the temporal kind? For Saint Mary, it was the news, that at the age of twelve, she would conceive a child. Not just any child but the Son of God. She responded saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)
Her faith was being put to the ultimate test. God had big plans and Saint Mary was about to play a major role in the salvation of all mankind. But what twelve year old girl would think of mankind when her whole life was about to flipped upside down? To say that this should be a time of confusion and discomfort would just be scrapping the surface.
Fr Dawood Lamey outlines joy very simply; Joy comes when you prioritise:
Saint Mary accepted God’s will, with no thought given to how His plans will impact her life personally. When the angel, Gabriel tells her that Elizabeth is also pregnant, her immediate thought is to help her cousin in her time of need. At no point did Saint Mary stop to think of herself. Her joy in this situation is beyond admirable. Had she stopped to think of herself, the course of history may have taken a very different turn.
When we take Saint Mary as an exemplar of joy and attempt to mould this into our own lives, we may see a very different pattern. We can often misrepresent joy for happiness. Happiness generally comes from a pursuit of one’s own will, pleasures and desires, whereas, joy is the complete opposite. One’s own desires are put on hold for the service of others. This is not to say that happiness is a negative. All in moderation. A major risk of happiness arises when it is used as an indication of spiritual health. Joy is the true indication of spiritual health. To be content and at peace throughout tribulation comes from having joy, that exceeds far beyond happiness.
The main difference between happiness and joy are their sources. Happiness originates from external influences of the world whereas joy is internal. Saint Jerome describes this difference saying, “By joy people mean an elation of mind over things that are worthy of exultation, whereas gaiety is an undisciplined elation of mind which knows no moderation.” When going through hardship, you may choose to ignore the situation. You may think that you are okay because you’re happy. If you can’t come to God at the end of day, on your knees and have an honest conservation with Him in prayer, of what spiritual benefit will that tribulation bring you?
You may be happy externally yet still filled with grief and sorrow, the fruits that oppose joy. St James says that, “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6; NKJV). The appeal of happiness is in its momentary pleasure but you put yourself in a cycle of an endless pursuit of satisfaction from an inconsistent world that will ultimately lead to much greater pain. There is nothing like the joy of having a clear conscience that has claimed victory over worldly lusts. There is also no difficulty quite like pursuing joy when you feel you have been given every reason to abandon God and His promises. Joy is not the result of “fun,” joy comes in times of chaos when all you know for sure is that God is holding you in the palm of His Hand.
So how can we find joy in tribulation?
To be thankful for all, even the seemingly insignificant. From the moment you wake up, you are already given more than enough reason to be thankful. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But do we really need to pray for food from day to day? We have that already, and so much more. Find thankfulness. The very reason we can complain so much is because God has already blessed us to the extent that we have created expectations of Him. How great His love is and for that alone, we are thankful.
To repent honestly without any ill-feelings toward others. To end every day in self-reflection of your own actions and how you can become more Christ-like brings joy, both in times of blessing and in times of tribulation. As St Ambrose says, “That man sins is no cause for surprise. What is blameworthy is his failure to acknowledge his error and humble himself before God.” When we humble ourselves before God, we allow Him to take away our human nature and replace it with the heavenly. Repentance is a tool that allows us to recognise our position before God so that self-awareness comes as a reflection of what God can make you and me.
To beg for His mercy so that He becomes our source of joy and spiritual nourishment in every storm. The joy of the heart cannot be taken away by the cares of this world, or the opinions of others, or the sin of despair. Stay in good company in sanctification from the world and He will provide for you.
When you feel God has blessed you, when life is going well, pursue joy most so that His blessings are not forgotten during tribulation. When blessings cause happiness and an elevation of the ego instead of a heart that gives God the glory, happiness quickly fades. Feeling joyful during times of blessing is good but how much more admirable is a person who is joyful during tribulation? A heart filled with joy is content during all external circumstances, the good and the bad, and is thankful through it all.