faith fridays: a joy-filled life


Do you remember how it felt to run in the rain as a child? Maybe even while still in your pajamas? There are few things as exhilarating as this on a warm, spring day, wouldn’t you agree?

This is how it feels to have a vibrant faith. This is how it feels to live a joy-filled life!

I have read accounts of those who have no faith life, and oftentimes, they see the joy on the faces of believers and don’t buy it. Joy on the face of a believer may seem misguided to them. How can anyone be that happy, after all? It can’t be real. They may even interpret it as an ignorance-is-bliss sort of happiness, a shallow sort of joy. But in my own experiences, that could not be further from the truth.

Oh, I know that not all people of faith appear joy-filled. We are all works in progress, after all. Some experience hardship that prevents joy from being fully infused into body and soul. But others, despite obstacles, have been able to experience a deep and abiding joy on a regular basis. Nurturing the faith life consistently can produce joy-filled results. Gratefully, I am living this joy-filled life. It is real and I wholly attribute it to my faith.

That does not mean every moment of my life is happy. Joy and happiness are not equal. Happiness is fleeting whereas joy comes from a deeper place. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said it this way: “Pleasure comes from without. Joy comes from within.” 

Here are some other joy references I’ve heard recently:

JOY = Jesus, Other, You (in that order). And it’s true. By putting ourselves last in this scenario, it doesn’t mean we are doormats or that we don’t love ourselves. It means we regard ourselves in the proper order, and when we do, our hearts experience true joy.

Scott Hahn, the great Catholic apologist, has said, “Joyless Christianity is a contradiction in terms.” Even Mother Teresa, who experienced years of “the dark night of the soul,” was joy-filled because of her deep love for Christ and others.

I’ve heard other joy references recently, mainly on Catholic radio in the last week, but can’t recall the sources:

“Joy is the same as being blessed and being blessed means having the kingdom of God within one’s heart.”

“Joy is the fruit of God’s spirit.”

“Unless we come to believe in God’s providence, it is impossible to experience true joy.”

In the last column she wrote before her death, my blogging friend Emilie Lemmons quoted words about joy from a book she’d been reading by Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom. The reflections came from a section in which Remen is describing what she’s learned about joy from those struggling with terminal illness:

“I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional will to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of love, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning or losing.

“The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than to happiness.”

Behind all of this is another truth that I believe drives true joy from within the center of the Christian heart: Life is short, but heaven is forever. When we live this reality, everything changes because we view life, happy and sad times alike, through this wide-view lens of eternal life. Doing so, we can put things into perspective more easily, and embrace all of this life we’ve been given, knowing that it’s only a dress rehearsal for the real deal.

Finally, if you didn’t get a chance to watch Oprah’s show in which she interviewed a vibrant community of religious sisters earlier this week, I hope you’ll make time in the coming days to view the link below. If you’re curious to see what pure joy looks like, you’ll find it on the faces of these nuns, mostly younger women who are truly in love with their faith and Lord!

Lent is coming. I’m planning to go deep with it, and in doing so, come out more joyful than ever. I hope you’ll join me.

Do you live a joy-filled life? What is the source of your joy?