I had a great evening yesterday. After a week of barely sleeping I was feeling very rough indeed. I came very close to cancelling my plans, but I’m so glad I didn’t! I want to share some of what I ended up talking about.
Great people, great conversation
Gemma is an old friend, and I had a meal with her and her fiancé Andy, who I’d not met before so it was great to meet him. Neither Gemma nor Andy would call themselves Christians. Then we went for a coffee and, after I got confused about which table we were at and almost ended up sitting by myself, we got talking again.
Andy asked what I thought about the afterlife. So we talked about that for a bit. Then we talked about forgiveness, about the Bible, about whether God is really a bit sexist, about creation and science and evolution, about whether I’m ‘religious’ or not. We spent about 2 hours asking each other questions and talking about our answers.
I love evenings like this.
At various points, Gemma and Andy apologised and said this was probably ‘a bit too much like work’ for me. If you’re reading this (and you better had be since you suggested I write it!), I want to say again not to be sorry. There’s probably nothing I enjoy more than getting to talk about Jesus with my friends.
The difference between happiness and joy
There’s one particular thing I want to share that we talked about last night. I was talking about how knowing Jesus in my life gives me meaning, peace and even joy.
Gemma has a pretty expressive face and I can normally tell what she’s thinking. When I said that word—’joy’—her face was quizzical, confused about what I was saying. I asked what was up. She clearly wanted to ask me about how I can have joy given the situation I’m in, but didn’t want to be insensitive. I gave her permission, so she asked (very sensitively I must say!).
This is how: there’s a huge difference between happiness and joy.
I told Gemma and Andy about an evening three months ago, after everything had fallen apart and my life was a mess. I was sat in my bedroom at my parents’ house, and I’d just finished a phone call with my pastor. He’d talked with me and prayed for me. I sat there in that room, alone, and I just cried. I cried and cried and cried. I felt like I’d never stop crying.
I wasn’t happy. Not by any definition of the word.
But in the midst of those tears, another feeling came (I don’t know if ‘feeling’ is the right word – perhaps ‘conviction’ is better). I describe that feeling as joy. Not happiness, but joy.
And for a few minutes, the tears turned from tears of sadness to tears of joy. I was smiling, maybe even laughing a little, as I cried. This may sound to you like I was hysterical. Even in that darkest moment, I knew a deep sense of joy. Then I stopped crying for a while.
The centre of my life remains
I’ll try to explain why I think that happened, even in my darkest hours, and I’ll try to explain it the same way I did last night when Gemma asked.
It’s because the centre of my life is intact, my core remains.
Happiness is fleeting. I was happy last night because I had a great evening with friends. I am happy when I’m playing a game I love, spending time with people I love, eating food I love. I am happy when things around me make me happy. People, situations, relationships, activities. Stuff. Stuff makes me happy. But stuff doesn’t always last or linger. Very few things are permanent and eternal. So happiness isn’t either. I’m not being down on ‘stuff’. Stuff is great, and to be enjoyed. It’s just not as reliable as joy.
My joy isn’t based on stuff. It’s based on knowing who I am, a child of God. It’s based on who I belong to, the God who made me and died for me. It’s based on having a purpose, to love, worship and serve Him with every fibre of my being. It’s based on having been given a new life, a fresh meaning, a name and identity that can never be taken away.
My marriage meant the world to me. It made me very happy indeed. But it was not the centre of my life or meaning or identity. Jesus is. And Jesus isn’t like ‘stuff’. Jesus remains. Nothing and no-one can take Him from me.
That fills me with deep, deep joy. Joy is a state of being, not a state of feeling. I am His. He is mine. And nothing will ever change that.
And that joy is available for everyone. Me. Gemma. Andy. Even you.