It started with banana bread.
I woke up to a busy and margin-less day of errands and lists. I read my bible, joyfully gave my day over and hit the ground running. Spying some browning bananas in the refrigerator, I decided homemade banana bread was just what this day needed to get off to the right start. So I mixed and baked the recipe I’ve made a hundred times and exactly 55 minutes later I opened the oven to discover my lovely banana bread completely burned. And a tiny, nearly unnoticeable piece of my joy slipped away.
Shrugging it off, I proceeded with my morning and gave my sons a one-hour notice of our departure for haircuts and shoe shopping. Sixty minutes later, I find my second born sitting on the couch still in pajamas, arguing that he never heard my announcement. Frustrated, I snapped that we were leaving without him unless he was ready in 10 minutes. Another sliver of joy flew out the window without so much as a wave goodbye.
Walking to the car I ducked to avoid something and hit my head. Hard. Hard enough to give me an instant headache and fill my eyes with watery pain. Walking back into the house, a small bubble of joy left and floated silently into the blue.
I grabbed some Advil and my water bottle, but as I tipped the bottle back to take a drink, I realized too late that the lid wasn’t screwed on correctly. Water spilled everywhere, taking with it drops of my joy.
By noon, I was fighting tears and longing to crawl back into bed and start over. Somehow, over the course of just a few hours, small thieves had broken into my day and stolen my joy a piece at a time. And the irony was that it wasn’t anything big. There weren’t any major hits, trials or disappointments. Instead, I was robbed little by little without my even noticing. A vase here, a lamp there. Some silverware, a rug, an armchair. Until I’m standing lost and helpless in a ransacked house wondering what happened.
Joy is a tricky thing and can be so very difficult to grasp. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it slips through your fingers like sand. But quite honestly there are a lot of misconceptions about joy. We tend to equate joy with outward happiness. We wrongly tether it to a cheery disposition regardless of external circumstances. Truth be told, there are simply days this is impossible. There are seasons when the storms come fast and furious and despite our best efforts, we simply can’t rally.
If we shift our idea of joy, however, if we turn it inside out and ourselves with it, we get something quite different. In fact, scripture’s definition of joy is entirely unlike the counterfeit this world tries to sell us.
There are 63 verses in the New Testament that contain the word joy. All but 4 of these have the same Greek word for joy, chara. I absolutely love the translation for this little word. It means, quite literally, “calm delight or gladness.” Not over the moon exuberance. Not cartwheels and squealing. Not leaping and jumping in happiness. Calm delight. Tranquil gladness.
When I think about the things I delight in, the first to come to mind is my children. When thoughts of them flash through my day, there is an intangible feeling that quickly follows. It is not a loud or flamboyant happiness. There are no deafening shouts or cartwheels. Instead, it is deep and quiet. It rises above their behavior or performance and outflanks all of life’s circumstances. It is constant and tranquil. It is calm delight.
On the flipside, when I think of things that bring joy according to the world’s definition, which is “great pleasure or happiness”, entirely different things swirl in my thoughts. Vacations, experiences, stuff. All things temporal and fleeting. Quite honestly, this isn’t what I need. I don’t need more pleasure and happy. I need more calm delight. I need the consistent and serene gladness that comes despite torrents outside. I am desperate for the peaceful satisfaction that pushes and persists through even the most unsightly tapestries.
So where do we find this joy? Paul answers that question in Romans.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.”
Joy comes from the Father. In His inherent goodness, the God who not only meets, but exceeds all our expectation and hope fills us with calm delight. Our belief in His goodness, in His love, in His faithfulness brings about a gladness that surpasses our daily trip ups.
It almost seems too simple. Such transcendent delight seems like it would require so much more effort. Fortunately, it doesn’t. The inexplicable reality is that joy beyond imagination and circumstance is hanging in the very air we breathe. But we have to seize it. Instead of surveying and lamenting all the things that appear taken from us, we have to choose joy. While the thieves loiter and linger waiting to steal our joy piece by piece, we must recognize that they are powerless. That the joy our Father promises comes from a well that never runs dry.
Life can be hard and the days longer than we wish. We are confronted regularly with disappointments and loss. But the God of hope has a trick up his sleeve. The joy He offers us goes beyond our mishaps, beyond our failures, beyond our pain. And graciously, beyond burned banana bread.