The Joy of the Lord is… What?

It’s a quiet week. Kids are still home from school, and everyone is lounging around before we all rev up for New Year’s. At my house, most of the Christmas cookies have been eaten, and maybe today will be the day I get around to vacuuming the needles and papery bits off the family room floor. A week ago – sigh – we were having fun baking those cookies, and no one was worrying about household chores.

This week, this in-between time that stretches from Christmas to New Year’s Day, couldn’t be more ordinary. Many of us are trying hard to hold onto the joy of Christmas. We vow that this year we’ll take joy into the new year. We’ll spend more time with friends, work on self-improvement, laugh more, get off social media, do whatever we have to do to keep joy from slipping through our fingers.

For some of us, though, December 26 came as a relief because it meant we didn’t have to think about Christmas for another year. For us there was little joy in the grind of Christmas preparations and putting up with difficult people. For us the joy came in being done with all of it.

And all of this makes me wonder how God can say that joy is strength (Nehemiah 8:10)? Joy does not seem like strength. At its best, joy seems like fleeting moments of bliss, and holding onto it is like clutching water. The harder you squeeze, the faster it drips away.

What are we missing here, that we have so little real joy in our lives? My study Bible says that “strength” in Neh. 8:10 means a place of safety, a refuge. It has little to do with feeling strong in any physical or emotional sense, and everything to do with knowing our souls are safe with God. In other words, our place of refuge, the place where our souls are safe, is found whenever we have joy.

Psalm 16:11 offers another clue: in God’s presence is fullness of joy. I believe that the key to joy is to make ourselves available to have a close relationship with God every day, as mindfully as we can, because joy flows out of the closeness we feel with Him. Joy is a byproduct of relationship; it’s not something we can manufacture or talk ourselves into. While it’s up to us to want this relationship, it’s up to Him to generate the joy in our spirits. Relationships are always two-sided, and thank goodness we have a reliable Friend on the other side who longs for us to know Him better and give us His joy.

There’s a time and a place for happy feelings (see my Dec. 21 post about celebrating Christmas!). But happy feelings will only take us so far, and right about now, I suspect we’ve started to hit the wall. Instead of whipping myself into a frenzy with more baking (because that’s often my happy place), I think maybe I’ll grab my Bible and read a Psalm about the majesty of God. Or maybe, if it stops raining, I’ll go for a walk and talk to God on the way. Or maybe I’ll just get the vacuum out and thank Him that I have a warm house, with a family in it, and a rug full of the evidence of recent celebration.

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