Joy: Open wide your heart to God’s desire
God desires your joy. In fact, He wants you to be completely joyful: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Jesus wants the measure of our joy to be his own joy. If I woke up this morning and didn’t spontaneously exclaim, “I am completely joyful,” well, there is something more for me to receive from God.
What is joy, anyway? It’s a desire of the heart that takes me beyond myself and the limits of the present moment in the confident assurance that the goodness, truth and beauty I have tasted in part is intended for me in a fullness beyond all I can ask or imagine.
I know, it’s a mouthful. But let’s take it piece by piece. Joy is a desire, not a point of arrival, accomplishment or possession. C.S. Lewis put the experience of true joy firmly in the category of desire — a nostalgic longing after something that is at once familiar, yet hard to define, ineffable.
What initiates this desire, which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction? The encounter with goodness, truth and beauty. Goodness, truth and beauty awaken a desire for more! Our hearts are made for God and are restless until they rest in Him who is all Good, True and Beautiful. A beautiful sunset easily lifts my heart and mind to wonder at God’s surpassing and transcendent beauty. But what lover of beautiful sunsets ever says, “Okay, enough with the sunsets. I don’t want any more”?
In the experience of joy, however, this longing for more is not grasping or insecure. Rather, the awakened desire is surrounded by a confident assurance that this experience of goodness, truth or beauty is a gift — and the Giver of that gift wants to give me more. In fact, the Giver intends to give me a fullness of goodness, truth and beauty far beyond all I can ask or imagine.
St. Paul prays that we may know the height and depth, breadth and length of God’s love in Christ — a love that surpasses knowledge! Sounds impossible, yet Paul is confident that God is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 4:14-21). No surprise, then that Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). No surprise either that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
So joy begins with an encounter with God — or something/someone in his creation that reflects or reveals his goodness, truth and beauty. This encounter awakens a desire for more that is assured, secure. It awakens a delightful and serene desire for a fullness of what I am tasting in part right now.
Indeed, upon reflection, Christian joy engages faith, hope and love. These gifts were given to us in Baptism and make a personal encounter and relationship with God possible. Faith is confident assurance in what is not seen, the capacity to know God and to know that what he says is true. Hope is a capacity to desire the Kingdom of God (think everlasting union with God) as my greatest good, trusting in his strength and not my own. Love responds to goodness, truth and beauty with a “going outside myself” in a sincere gift of self. So when faith, hope and love are engaged and detonate in the human heart, the radiance of that explosion is what we call joy.
In that light, let’s look at some practical ways to open our hearts to be filled with the fullness of joy. First, we can pray for an increase of faith, hope and love. Second, we can intentionally pay attention to and savor in our memories — our experiences of goodness, truth and beauty. The more we reflect on these catalysts of our joy, the more our joy will increase.
Finally, we can give ourselves intentionally to praise and thanksgiving: I praise God for who he is. He is holy, righteous, just, kind, merciful, good, true, beautiful, powerful, patient, loving, generous, etc. I thank him for what he has done, creating me, forgiven me, blessed me with his Holy Spirit, given his Son for me, died on the Cross for me, taught me, led me, comforted me, anointed me, healed me, and so much more.
The more we fix our hearts on who God is (praise) and what he has done (thanksgiving), the more readily we will trust him, know him and want him. We will grow in hope, faith, and love — and our joy will grow. Let us open wide our hearts to God’s desire for us — joy beyond all we can ask or imagine.
FATHER SCOTT TRAYNOR is the rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and chaplain of Legatus’ Denver Chapter.