Monday, August 17, 2009

Joy for the Asking, Joy for the Keeping

Joy is a vital virtue for a healthy, holy life and that while asking for it might not be a problem on most days - keeping it is another! And reminding ourselves of its importance is key.

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.
And, if we don’t practice them, so to speak, are we surprised when we don’t have them. This is a basic fact of life. Want muscles?? Exercise. We tell our children that they will know their multiplication facts if they practice them along with their Latin or Spanish verbs. The same is true of virtues - such as joy. If you want it - ask for it and put it into practice.
While we often substitute being happy (an emotion) for being joyful we are not thinking of the emotion but the virtue! For it is virtue we want is it not? It is virtue that will get us into heaven not feelings or emotions.
BUT, this is NOT to say that emotions are bad as they are a part of who we are as people, they are given to us by God however I think we can all agree that they aren’t the most reliable source of information and can often get us into trouble if we act on emotion only without giving some rational thought to our decisions.
Joy is a fruit - growing as a result of the seeds planted by the Holy Spirit. And just like any seed we can either help it grow and flourish or allow it to die. Our lives therefore need to be lived in such a manner that these fruits - joy for our purposes - to not only grow but flourish. Are we living in such a way that we give water and food to the seeds of joy in our lives?
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.
Joy as a virtue has a few criteria: it is all about the good, and is unrestrained - rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say rejoice, Paul tells us in Phillipians 4:4-5.
So, joy here is the delight our lives should take in knowing that God IS God and He is in control, our Creator, our Father, our source of salvation, He came as a baby, He died on the cross, rose from the dead, gave us the Holy Spirit and remains with us in the Eucharist - and on and on and on. The reasons we can be joyful in God is truly limitless but we still balk at Paul’s admonition to rejoice always.
And speaking of joy in mid-summer seems a bit odd. Joy is something we may only ponder during the Advent and Christmas season when we think angels, stable and Joy to the World! This very mindset is one of our problems with joy as joy needs to be a reality all year long.
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’!!
Now, the dictionary gives us a valid yet simple definition: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. We know what this means - the toddler loses all feelings of joy when a balloon breaks, while our teenagers lose all feelings of joy when a pimple makes an appearance.

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??
First - we need to stop allowing joy to remain either just a feeling that comes and goes based on our mood, emotions and yes - women - our month!! Second, we need to pull joy off the Christmas card and put it in our daily to do list.
As I mentioned before joy needs to be a reality that we know - know, deep and strong - that God is God and He loves us more than we can ever realize. The quote that comes from John is in the midst of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse. His lengthy talk with his disciples the eve before He is led off to torture and death. He manages to talk of JOY on the evening before He knows He is to die a most miserable death. If He can manage that, we need to manage to be joyful when our lives are a struggle.
If you need to take a look at the context of the quote on joy - other quotes in that same part of John’s gospel we hear Jesus tell us: Trust in God still and trust in me (14:1), Whatever you ask in my name I will do (14:13), Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love Him and show myself to him. (14:21) and continues on for three more chapters. In John we have four chapters of Jesus outlining who we are - part of Him, we are branches to His vine, all that He is giving us - the Holy Spirit and all that He is preparing for us - there are many rooms in my Father’s house! How can we NOT be joyful!!
Joy is the knowledge and the feelings we then get, in knowing that everything is in God’s hands. He knows what He is doing, He does see you and does care - deeply - about what happens to you and your family.
So - we know there are infinite reasons to find and keep joy but we still may struggle. These struggles are often due to challenges with both our personality and our perspective.
Being able to find joy is more often than not, an aspect of our personality while keeping joy is most often linked to perspective.
Just a little bit about personalities. While we are all made in the image and likeness of God, we are not all the same. One could even joke that it seems that the nursery rhyme about girls being made of sugar and spice and boys made of snips and snails is true, while some of us are made from prickly pears and others made of whipped cream fighting hard to stand up.
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.
There is no shame is admitting this. Some people struggle in asking for anything - much less virtues - and others find it hard to admit that they need to, while others seems to do both more easily.
However - being will to ask for what you lack is absolutely necessary for obtaining joy or any other virtue. There is the admonition to Know Thyself, Accept Thyself, Better Thyself. If you refuse to admit that you struggle with patience, for example, you are not going to pray for it which is what you need to do and what your spouse and children are hoping you WILL do.
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..
We are not all the same in God’s eyes and for His purpose.
If it is hard to find or see joy in your life - admit it. Ask for the joy you need. While some of us can find joy in almost any situation, others struggle seeing it on the best of days. Ask God to increase it and then rely on Him doing it. If we want to spin out joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit analogy - some of us were given a watermelon of joy while others were given a lemon and we all know what we are asked to do with lemons - don’t we?? Start asking God to help you start making some lemonade!!
One way to increase your ability to see joy is to increase the amount of praising you do. Not just PRAY-ING but PRAISE-ING.
We all know that Catholics aren’t perfect, we’ve got flaws by the bucket load and one of our flaws is that we can become very routine in our prayer life. If you recognize that you can’t ‘see’ joy easily, add a dimension of praise to your prayer life. Praise is a time of prayer when you aren’t asking God for anything for you or others, just giving Him the praise that is due Him because He is God. Remember joy is a result of that love we have for God because He IS God - praise gives us the chance to both tell Him and remind ourselves.
In our Catholic faith we have some great canticles of praise - canticle of Zechariah, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people to set them free!” The Magnificat is another canticle of praise, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior!” As well as the Te Deum is an ancient prayer of praise - “You are God; we praise you: You are the Lord: we acclaim you.”
Praise is ancient from the Israelites who sang praise to God in the Psalms such as the calming, Ps. 23 “ The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” to Ps. 104, “Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord, my God, you are great indeed! You are clothed with majesty and glory. “
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.
The other aspect of asking for and finding joy is the need we all have to gain some perspective on life. You should neither expect life to be easy but it is also not - excuse my boldness - hell. Life is not easy, it is a challenge, but you are up for the task and have all you need. Life is after all our only path to heaven and as such it is a daily opportunity to know, love and serve God better. However, too often we can refuse to ask for joy because it just doesn’t seem to fit into our lives.
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.
Jesus himself knows that there are many forces out there ready to steal the gifts that He has given - including joy. In the Last Supper discourses He tells us - “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you” (15:18). He warns the disciples there of the deaths they will face because of Him. A life with Christ do not exclude us from sorrow and sadness - some would say it guarantees it. Even Paul who talks about rejoicing always will tells us in Romans 9:2 that his sorrow and anguish are unending! Do not feel you cannot ask for joy in midst of the sorrows of the world or your life but see joy as part of the strength you need to endure - for Jesus also says, “Be brave, for I have conquered the world.”
True joy is not asking you to pretend life is always easy but offers you the support you need to get through the difficulties that are bound to come! While I am an unabashed Pollyanna in real life - I know of which I speak - my life has had its own set of struggles just as yours has. There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t faced a struggle, endured a challenge or even perhaps faced death itself. Jesus knew this and gave us joy as a remedy to the sadness that is bound to come.
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.
Let us never think that anyone with more money, bigger house, better clothes, better kids, better anything has a guaranteed more joyful life - they might find it easier to pay their bills or look nicer going out but may face challenges we never will.
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.
I have two suggestions here to help you gain some better perspective. Fulfilling the acronym of JOY -Jesus, Others, You - one is for someone else but one is for you.
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.
Concretely helping others in need - with prayers, time, talents or treasures - is a surefire way to keep you joyful. This goes back to the aspect of charity - the source of joy - that I spoke of in the beginning. Being good to others will bring you joy! Guaranteed.
One idea might be spiritual adoption. Throughout my life, I’ve had a love for ‘pagan babies’. Does anyone else remember that extremely politically incorrect name from Catholic elementary schools? In my own school, the boys and girls were forever in competition with each other for who could bring in enough pennies and nickels to adopt a pagan baby. As an adult and then parent I would think back on those days or see the info-mercials on the programs and wonder about doing it again. But, quite honestly, our budget is too tight for that. Then on one rather difficult day I was whining and complaining interiorly about how hard my life was, I had this blast of an image of a mother far away really, truly struggling. I saw no faces, heard no voices but I knew that no matter how hard my life was there was - as my mother used to say to me ‘starving children in China (or India, or even America). The thought and image of these mothers and their children took my breath away and I realized I have nothing to complain about!
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??
They are linked in live aren’t they? When we are happy it is easier to see and feel joy isn’t it? And, honestly there is nothing wrong with that as it a part of who we are as people.
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.
Remember, our feelings are a gift from God and we need to use them well. They can be abused or they can be used. Abusing our feelings is to allow them to control us or to ignore them in our lives. Using them well is allowing them to spur us on to action, or help us to stay in love.
So, put your emotions and feelings to good use and make a long list of everything that makes you feel joyful! Your marriage (I hope), your kids (even when they aren’t behaving), how about fresh baked cookies, an unexpected gift in the mail or news of a friend’s healing. You can begin with Jesus - start with being a Catholic. Make a list of the profoundness of the salvation story that inspires you. The Bible is written down for this very purpose - for reminding us of the how, who, what and why of our faith.
Be sure to include those things that are specific to you and what you like - waterfalls, working with wood or making a really nice quilt? Making such a personal list and looking at it, more than once in a while, adding to it on a regular basis will help you keep joy more on the surface of your soul and not so hidden down. This list might find a place on your fridge or in your prayer journal. A place where you can remember all the reasons you have to be joyful, all the reasons you can offer praise to God and helps you develop an eye out for the joy that is to come.
So - we’ve found joy - now comes the real work - keeping joy -
This is the real challenge isn’t it? Most of us wake up in relatively good moods - all is well and we are going to do remarkable things with our day - then, as the joke goes, the rest of the world wakes up. IF everyone would do as we say, IF God would just stop testing us, IF other people would just get out of our way everything would be just fine - our moods would remain joyful and all would be right with the world!!
BUT that is not how it goes is it? If our joy is lost - is it some one else’s fault or our own?
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.
Deadly sin reminder time - Envy "occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”
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.
One way to crush this snake is to go out of your way to offer congratulations for others’ good fortune. While it may not be possible to send out a card of congrats to the big lottery winner while you shred your losing ticket, you can offer up a prayer of thanksgiving on their behalf with the hope they spend the money well.
Another key to keeping joy is to guard it as you would your child’s innocence. In our current society, we know we need to be diligent in what our children see, hear and experience in order to help them remain as chaste and pure as God intends. This isn’t easy, is it but we wouldn’t hand over our children’s modesty or purity would we??
But, we can regularly hand over our joy - our feelings of contentment with the world and with God - to strangers on the street, the newscaster on the TV and the e-mail inbox.
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.
Guard yourself. What occurs during your day that really feels like an attack to you? What are you sensitive to that goes deep past just your emotions and into your soul? Knowing we have different personalities, we also have different triggers in this regard.
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.
You also need to keep perspective on what you allow to take either your joy or even your happiness throughout the day. The best way to keep joy throughout the day is to have a plan to face the day. Just as I asked you to make the list of what makes you joyful - take a look at your typical day and see where your joy seems to leak out and wane.
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.
But we forget, often forget, that all we do - everytime we do it, we have the chance to do it for Christ. The fifteenth time we’ve tied a shoe, the fourth time we’ve cooked macaroni and cheese this week can all be for Christ if we so choose.
The homeschooling we do on a daily basis and the hours it takes are for Christ, for His Kingdom and the saints He has asked us to form. We can either allow all that we do to be a source of frustration or not.
Joy is not happiness but keeping joy - keeping Jesus front and center - does help in keeping you happy as well. So when I said that we need to put joy in our planner - do it. Write down joy every day - Jesus, Others and You and you’ll find yourself serving Christ - in your children - more and ‘those kids who keep interrupting you’ less. You will find you patient with your husband with whom you share a sacrament rather than upset with the guy who drops his socks on the floor.
You will discover that by focusing on all the reasons you have for real joy you’ll not be as prone to complaining, yelling and in general being less joyful. Joy - and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit and virtues - don’t like being around the weeds of sin and if we focus more on the those they will begin to force the weeds out of our garden.

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!
Keeping joy will just help your days be easier in that you will begin to focus more on Christ and less on you and that is really what matters isn’t?