And like any other virtue is in the asking and practicing of it that we are able to not only keep it, but keep it well! Jesus reminds of this in Mt. 13:11.“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
While there are those who will want to believe that this has to do with material goods - from a Catholic perspective we know it has to do with spiritual blessings. The more we practice virtue - faith, hope, love and joy - the more we gain - including the grace which gives us the ability to be more loving, faithful and joyful.
Joy is also an effect of charity - charity being both the acts or feelings of a kindly manner towards others and any subsequent actions we take in their regard - we feel charitably towards those around us, we give charity to those in need and such like. But, charity is also specifically is the divine love, that is, to the love of God for man or the love of man for God. In this way charity is us loving God for His own sake and others account of God.
It is a recurring theme for Jesus himself who tells us in John 15:
• 7. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
• 8. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
• 9. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
• 10. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
11. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
But, in reality, we may struggle to find joy in our lives and we would be hardpressed to say that our ‘joy is complete’!!
This is not to say that these situations are not a cause for sadness and appropriate for the kids at their ages but we - as adults - need to be able to learn how to develop real joy and then learn how to keep it regardless of situation!
Remember our friend, St. Paul? We just spent a year celebrating him and his writings but let’s be honest - some of what he asks just downright impossible! Rejoice always!!? Our lives seem way too complicated and full of struggle to say we can rejoice always and that maintain that fullness of joy Jesus asks, doesn’t it? But, if He says it, the Holy Spirit provides it as a fruit and Paul, along with our Church, calls us to it, it must be do-able. God never promises what He doesn’t provide and never asks of us what we cannot achieve - so what’s the problem??
Being able to find joy is more often than not, an aspect of our personality while keeping joy is most often linked to perspective.
The study of personality types is well-founded from the Greeks to Thomas Aquinas to, most recently, Art and Laraine Bennett. This is not so say personalities are the be all, end all and decide all about us, but they are a part of who we are. Our personalities can make finding and keeping joy relatively easy or extremely difficult.
We are all not given every gift, every virtue in equal proportion. This is not your fault but rather a flaw in the design if you will. It is how God made us, for His purpose and we must know it - accept and then work on the better-ing part. Reread the parable of the talents beginning in Matthew 25:14 if you need to remember this or Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 12:28 NIV
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues..
This praising fulfills the first obligation in the acronym of JOY. Are you familiar with this? Joy standing for Jesus - Others - You. If we put our attentions in that order - taking care of Jesus and His needs first, then others and ourselves last - we will gain joy. Taking time, each day, to praise Jesus is a first great step to opening ourselves to seeing more joy in our lives and then keeping it there. Don’t let you pray time become just a recitation of a list of what God needs to do, or what you want Him to do but make sure to give ample time to just giving God what He is due - praise for all His wonderfulness.
Joy seems impossible to have when the world is so out of whack. Do we even have a right to joy when there are decisions being made in Washington, DC that are in direct opposition to Jesus? We have friends who are struggling with jobs, sickness, we can see the evening news and see every reason NOT to be joyful, don’t we? But, we do have a right to joy. We have a right to joy of remembering that God is God and despite all that we endure, see, hear and experience He is returning.
So, we have decided to ask for joy and are taking time to praise God in response for that gift but keeping it is an whole ‘nother problem. And, there is much more equality here - for while some of us find asking for and finding joy easier than others -- we all seem pretty good at losing it.
One of the first ways to keep joy is much like the finding of it - admission to yourself that joy is there regardless of your struggles.
And, we must also admit that for most of the people outside the United States life is much, much more challenging than we will ever know. I say this not to dismiss your difficulties but to give us all a bit of perspective and strength. Keeping perspective on your life is vital to developing and keeping joy.
We can truly gain strength and grace and keep joy for our own struggles if we join them with others. The majority of the world struggles with a poverty we will never know and the real threat of death not only from diseases we have cures for but war. With that in mind, gain some joy by thinking of others.
On my worst days, when I really think I need to consider a different life I take a moment and say a pray for a mother far away who is not struggling with a child who can’t choose between grape and strawberry jelly but with a child who hasn’t had food in days. Remembering these families in faith who are really struggling can help us realize that allowing our joy to leak out due a toddler’s tantrum or a slow line of traffic shows a lack of perspective. Consider spiritually adopting another family - though you may never know their names and offer up your struggles for theirs. Doing so will bring you joy and them much needed support and grace.
Another concrete way to keep joy is remember why you should be joyful. This one is for you - finally, it is all about you! Take some time in the next few days (or at least before school starts) to make your own personal list of Reasons to be Joyful. While the virtue of joy which is often confused with the emotion of happiness and while they are not the same and not always interchangeable we all do it, don’t we??
The list I am asking you to make is to take an assessment of who you are as a person - your personality and what makes you so happy that it sinks deep into your skin and into your very soul. That feeling of happiness that makes you think of God and His goodness and all He has done for you - the happy things in your life that lead you to the deepness of joy.
So - we’ve found joy - now comes the real work - keeping joy -
There are many ways to lose joy (or patience or peace) but there are some specific situations that might cause you to lose grip of joy specifically -
Joy once had is often lost through the deadly sin of envy.
This breaking of the 10th commandment makes us reluctant to see joy or be joyful when others have more than us, have good things happen to them or any other reason. To keep joy, keep a very close eye on your envy bone. If you find yourself envious of what others have or gain - take it to confession - again and again as necessary. Envy wants to steal your joy - to pluck this fruit from your tree so to speak. The snake in the garden again. Don’t let it happen.
Think about it - you receive a junk e-mail, you know the ones that demand you send this on to 10 friends, say this specific prayer 15 times or risk death itself if not the outrage of the Blessed Mother? What do you do? If you’re me, your heart sinks, you hate this, you are angry you received it and then you think God doesn’t work like this!!! But still, you wonder.....and you send it. This type of superstition, along with doomdays news casts are attempts to make you forget that God is in charge - and God is in charge - not you, not an e-mail and not a declaration from anyone about climate change.
Is the attack coming from the news, your emails, a certain friend or magazine? If you can determine what causes you to feel drained of all joy and avoid it. Don’t give in to it. Just as you wouldn’t allow your children to see an improper movie, don’t ever, ever send your joy into a situation where it couldn’t survive.
Dinner time? Teaching Math? Calling in on your ailing mother? For most of us, we do pretty well until faced with a situation we don’t like but have to do anyway. Or we do pretty well until faced with a situation we didn’t have planned or BOTH! The bottom line is once more Jesus, Others, and You.
Pray to see and strive to see all that happens as from Christ and you will keep the joy you have. From the planned misery of the math test or dinner prep to the unexpected car trouble - each is a chance to either allow Jesus to work with us or do it alone. Keeping your joy means keeping Jesus first. Helping our children with math fulfills our duty before God, serving them dinner is a chance to serve Christ himself. Seemingly simple, seemingly so spiritual but so simply true!
Keeping Joy is most often the work of keeping Jesus first in our lives. This will not guarantee you perfect days, it will not guarantee you perfect kids or perfect anything. You will encounter moments of suffering, sorrow and sacrifice. You will be asked to do things you thought you’d never do, but do them you will!