My oldest and youngest sons are a lot like me. Whatever emotions they feel are clearly written on their faces, and often expressed with great drama. Lengthy exultations laced with hyperbole pour forth when they are happy; when they are sad, their bodies droop and they morosely expound the injustices of life. But my middle son, Wes, is a different story. He is a master of subtlety and nuance. Each word is carefully chosen and meant to bear its full meaning. Often, he doesn’t even use words to get his message across—the twinkle in his eye or the tilt of his lips offers as much as the spoken paragraphs of my other sons.
So I was a little surprised the other day at Wes’s enthusiasm. Something made him happy (I don’t remember what) and he gushed, “I’m buried with joy!” I was so shocked by this effusion that I had to ask him to repeat what he said. “Buried with joy” is a very strong statement! It’s also a rather poetic thing to say. So it got me thinking…
Who wouldn’t want to feel “buried with joy”? It’s a delightful thought: being so full of happiness that you feel completely immersed in it. Joy under you, over you, around you…what a way to live! I believe this is what God has in mind for us.
Apparently we are supposed to feel joyful all the time, because James 1: 2 points out that we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” The very last time I’m inclined to feel joyful is when I’m facing trials of many kinds! People who have suffered tragedy and emerged victoriously testify that joy expresses itself as peace or assurance in the midst of hardship; it isn’t always glee.
Of course, sometimes joy is glee. There are times in our lives when we absolutely revel in the blessings God has heaped upon us. A dream may be realized, a baby born, a marriage begun, etc. We all understand how these things can cause a person to feel joyful.
But what about neutral days or periods in our lives? I mean, those times in life when nothing is really wrong, and nothing is new and exciting, either. What should joy look like then? The joyful Christians I know are those who are comfortable within their own skin. They enjoy life. Even on the least extraordinary day, they find reasons to laugh and love.
Joy is a deep-seated contentment. It is to know that whatever befalls, you are safe within God’s palm. Should you achieve something great, you are in his hands. Should a loved one die, you are in his hands. Should you simply make it through another Tuesday, you are in his hands. Whether the sun seems to rise or set in your life, you remain safely tucked within the folds of his hand. Nothing changes for you, ultimately, because you are safe.
As far as that goes, Christians are the “luckiest” people on earth. Circumstances don’t determine our joy. We know that we will always be all right. I know that sounds like poppycock to some people; it seems terribly naïve to say that we’ll always be okay.
What I’m not saying is that we’ll never be hurt or sad or mistreated. I’m saying that we can withstand that. We can withstand anything. After all, the ultimate human fear is death, and yet Christians do not fear even that. I Corinthians 15 has these verses:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
Death is simply the shedding of the mortal body. Christians know that once they shed this body, they’ll really start living. Even the grief of the death of a loved one is mingled with promise of Heaven, if that loved one had given his life to the Lord. So, if death doesn’t scare us, what can? And if nothing scares us, we understand our security in our heavenly Father. And that, I submit to the reader, is joy.
When Wes told me he was “buried in joy,” he was using a bit of poetic imagery. But with this hope of Heaven, we literally can be buried in joy some day. Joy will be ours because we will be in the presence of the Lord. And joy can glow even within the mournful hearts of those we leave behind, because they know we have begun the better life.
For me, the bottom line is this: Joy can be mine in all situations, because I have nothing to fear. I’m safe in God’s hands. Stanley Ditmer put it this way:
What though I cannot know the way that lies before me?
I still can trust and freely follow his commands;
My faith is firm since it is he that watches o’er me;
Of this I’m confident: I’m in his hands.
(Salvation Army Song Book, #732, vs. 2)