Zephaniah 3:17-20a Inclusive Bible
For YHWH your God is in your midst, a warrior to keep you safe; who will rejoice over you and be glad with it; who will show you love once more, and exult with songs of joy and soothe those who are grieving. At the appointed time I will take away your cries of woe and you will no longer endure reproach. When that time comes, I will deal with all who oppress you. I will rescue the lost and gather the dispersed. I will win for my people praise and renown throughout the whole world. When that time comes, I will gather you and bring you home.
What is joy?
Well now, that’s a loaded question!
What do you think?
What is joy?
Maybe you answered with: happiness.
Elation? A warm, fuzzy feeling? A notion that everything is going great? Or what?
It’s not all that easy to define joy, and probably that’s part of our issue with it. I don’t want to speak for you, but sometimes what joy is presented as to me doesn’t quite seem possible. After all, I don’t always feel happy. And happiness itself can be defined in so many different ways.
So let’s do this—let’s say what joy isn’t. Joy isn’t a feeling. Joy isn’t a bodily reaction to some external stimuli. Feelings are: the tickle you feel when a feather brushes your skin. We feel heat when the sun is strong in the sky. We feel relief when we sneeze. But joy is not a feeling, joy is an emotion. Emotions are active responses and they have objects. For example, your partner gets the new job she was hoping for, and you have joy over that event.
I’ll go a step further. Joy is an emotion, but perhaps it should be partnered with gratitude.
Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brown is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.
She is also the Founder and CEO of The Daring Way and COURAGEworks – an online learning community that offers eCourses, workshops, and interviews for individuals and organizations ready for braver living, loving, and leading. Brown’s 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with over 25 million viewers.
She once appeared on Oprah’s show, and talked about joy. She called joy the most terrifying emotion. Why terrifying? Because fear stems from having our joy taken away. How many of us, she asks, “have ever sat up and thought, ‘Wow, work’s going good, good relationship with my partner, parents seem to be doing okay. Holy crap. Something bad’s going to happen’? You know what that is? [It’s] when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability. Joy becomes foreboding: ‘I’m scared it’s going to be taken away. The other shoe’s going to drop…’ What we do in moments of joyfulness is, we try to beat vulnerability to the punch.”
To illustrate this point, Dr. Brown shares with Oprah a story about a man she interviewed who admitted to her that he never allowed himself to be too joyful about anything in life. Then his wife of 40 years was killed in a car accident. Dr. Brown remembers him saying, “The second I realized [my wife] was gone, the first thing I thought was, ‘I should have leaned harder into those moments of joy. Because that did not protect me from what I feel right now.’”
Truly joyful people, says Dr. Brown, do not allow fear to take away from fully experiencing joy. They practice gratitude. And it is tangible.
What if the root of joy is gratefulness?
What if joy is born out of gratefulness?
If so, even bad luck can give joy to those who manage to be grateful for it.
Gratitude makes us joyful.
And so, the prophet Zechariah says:
Yahweh rejoices over us.
Yahweh, G-d, shows love to us.
G-d soothes those who grieve and takes away woe.
G-d deals with those who are oppressed—rescuing and gathering them.
G-d brings us home. Home to joy.
Home to gratefulness.
Even tears and sadness can be pathways to gratefulness, and then to joy.