What is it? I’ve found that most people consider joy to be synonymous with happiness, but I don’t believe this is the case. The dictionary definition of joy states:
a feeling of great pleasure and happiness
It’s unfortunate, but I believe this definition does a disservice to what true joy is and ought to be. Happiness is an emotion, and for the most part I would say it is fleeting. While happiness tends to focus on self (in the selfish sense), joy encompasses so much more. It’s easy to demonstrate this by the way people talk. We’re not really surprised when we hear people say “I deserve to be happy”, but when have you ever heard someone say “I deserve to be joyful”?
Happiness is often wrapped up in self, and is something you try to acquire by buying the right car, getting the right job, the right spouse, the white picket fence, wealth, or other ephemeral things that humanity tends to chase after. Joy, on the other hand, is wrapped up in that which is external to oneself, the people you are surrounded by, thankfulness, contentment. Joy is a choice, and one that needs to be made on a daily basis (maybe an hourly basis on some particular days).
Joyfulness and sadness are not mutually exclusive.
I want to share with you a story about the word “joy”. It might be considered more of a journeytowards joy – as the story itself seems more concerned about a desire for happiness. Joy, as it turns out, is something that can be a very difficult thing to choose. The story below (a true story, by the way) is something I wrote on December 28, 2009. For three years it has sat here, unread by anyone – until now:
It was just a Christmas tin. You know the kind – the ones that often come with cookies inside. This one was slightly rectangular as opposed to round, painted red and gold.
There on the top of the box was painted the word “Joy”, in an elegant cursive script. “Joy”. Ironic.
My wife and I have been trying to get pregnant for two years. All around us are little children, with more friends becoming pregnant with their second or third child on what sometimes feels like a weekly basis. And yet for us, every month yields the same damn results: nothing.
Some months it doesn’t seem to bother me, and some seem to bother me a lot. Occasionally I convince myself that this new month is different for some reason or another. This month will be different.
December. The beginning of the month is a happy time. Time to dig up from the garage all the carefully stored Christmas items that have lay dormant for another year. A time to re-discover your ornaments, decorations and nativity set. But as I slowly unpacked box after box, I came across a tiny stocking, one that you might hang in between two adults stockings, if you were expecting a child, or had a small newborn in the house. Several months of emotion seemed to flood through me at once, and I burst into tears. A rare site. For a moment, it was my wife who had to be the strong one, the one to console me. Usually it’s the other way around.
After a while: calm. What else do I find in the boxes – a tiny mitten that could easily sit alongside that tiny stocking. But that’s ok, because now I know that this month is going to be different. Something is different. It’s going to happen.
So I grabbed the tiny stocking and folded it in half. I lay the mitten on top, and put the whole bundle into the “Joy” tin. Later this month, when we receive different news, news of a baby, I’ll pull the tin out, lay it in my wife’s lap, and we’ll laugh together: happier than we’ve been.
But as it turns out, December wasn’t any different. The tin still has its stocking and mitten, and I’m still sitting here wondering if any month will ever be different. Tired of people, tired of pity, tired of questions and tired of pretending to be happy and congratulatory for pregnant friends.
Six months later Carly and I were packing our bags for France. Neither of us could stomach being at home any more. If I had even one more person give us advice about what doctor to see or what tea to drink or tell me they’d wished they had a boy instead of a girl, it was going to end badly for them.
Carly and I left on a journey. We left running, numb, broken, angry and desperate to escape. We didn’t know it, but we were entering into a pilgrimage of sorts. Not the type of pilgrimage where you know where you’re going, and so you walk in that direction, but rather a pilgrimage where Someone Else knows where He’s taking you, and you happen to stumble on a lot of rocks along the way – mostly due to your stubbornness. Someone was trying to teach us about joy.
The real story of Kitchening & Co. is not one of food or macarons or anything of the sort. The real story is one of brokenness being transformed into joyfulness. It’s about people. It’s a story of pouring our hearts into something, and bringing joy to others regardless of whether or not our own lives were being fulfilled in the way we selfishly wanted them to be, by becoming parents.
And so it happened that on this journey towards joy, and 18 months after Carly and I started this Kitchening thing, we were blessed with a beautiful boy that we adopted on September 10, 2012. We named our son Oliver James David Wintschel. His names were chosen carefully, and for many reasons, none the least of which is James 1:2-5:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)
As we look now toward Christmas, will you seek to choose joy over happiness?