Summer camps are designed to make lasting memories. Faith grows from one memory to the next. Think about that in your own life. If you put your faith on a timeline it would follow memorable moments that would define your faith—with the truth also being some of those memorable moments are quite painful. Hence why pain is the beginning. Summer camps often are a part of that timeline—with way more joy than pain. Hence why I love teaching at them.
One recent summer I spoke at a teen camp and we had a very good week together. The last night of camp is always emotional. The emotions of having to leave friends and counselors you’ve bonded with. The emotions of the personal experiences you’ve had encountering God all week. The emotions of realizing that tomorrow you are going home and back to normal—but you’ve changed so much away from that normal. How will the new you fit into the normal? There is a lot of holy tension in that one.
At this particular camp, just before the evening session when everyone was doing an organized activity outside, the heavens opened up and it poured rain. Rain at camp is a downer. It generally means everyone is stuck inside biding time that was not on the schedule and missing scheduled plans. But this rain was different. Maybe due to It being our last night together. Maybe due to the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the week. In that downpour, everyone stayed in the rain and danced and laughed together—even the program director. It was so joyful, so memorable.
One of our boys is doing hard time in prison. When I say “hard time” it is like the dark prison shows on TV but real. He has had to endure a lot. There are stories I know and there are stories that he won’t tell me. I think I could handle what he won’t tell me but he wants to protect me. I’m okay with that.
On one summer night while out in the “yard,” he and others got caught in a summer downpour. As he was describing it to me it was so similar to what had happened just weeks earlier at this camp. But he was in prison with other prisoners. And they got to experience the same joy, the same beauty, the same emotions. And particularly for him, innocent joy.
This story led to daily emails from him sharing more moments of such innocent joy, or IJMs as they became known. Look at the simplicity of these—simplicity in awful situations:
This happened when I was in segregation. I am only going to speak on IJM from prison right now. This officer and I, (he was from Hawaii) were cool. We used to kick it all the time. One day I was in a mischievous mood. Well I was in the commission of committing an offense and all of sudden the officer screamed out, “Wilson, you know like Tom Hanks screamed on the movie Cast Away.” Made me laugh so hard that I forgot about the anger I was feeling. Then we kicked and pretty much cleared the air. That was our inside joke. When he would begin his shift he would always begin his shift calling me like that.
(Thank you, Mr. Hawaiian CO working in Virginia for seeing value in my son.)
I was at SISP. One day I was fairly quiet, stayed in the cell for most of the day. I really wasn’t in a socializing mood. Inside the cells there is an intercom system where the officers can notify you for whatever reason they have. I was cool with this officer and she was worried why I had been solitary all day. She called me and told me to come to the booth for a second. I was kind of frustrated so I said, “for what?” I went down there and she had a big smile on her face. She was holding in her hand a peanut butter brownie for me.
(Oh the goodness of a peanut butter brownie at any time, so how much more so at this time?!)
Joy more often comes to us in ordinary moments. Not the extraordinary. Joy comes in moments that have peanut butter brownies in them or when the rains suddenly drench you.
I learned from Dr. Brene’ Brown’s research how joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions there is. Why? Because our mind travels to these kinds of thoughts when we have moments of joy. I’m not going to allow myself to feel this joy because I know it won’t last. Do you feel the vulnerability? Or If I acknowledge how grateful I am, I’m sure disaster is right around the corner. Do you feel the vulnerability? Or I’d rather not be joyful so that I don’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop. Do you feel the vulnerability? Which thought do you find yourself thinking when you are faced with joy?
Joy is very much a part of our Christian walk. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. An oft-quoted verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Always be joyful. Though it may be oft-quoted because it is simply three words which makes it so easy to memorize. But are we always joyful? Especially when those foreboding joy thoughts occupy our thoughts first?
Note: Take a look at each one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Notice how vulnerability is a part of each one of those fruits. There is a whole article series on that which exposes the truth of how we box-up our Christian faith to be safe when really it is meant to be brave which leads to vulnerability. We check-list those fruits of the Spirit in our lives never understanding the vulnerability each of them require of us. Check the series out!
Joy is scary and vulnerable. Neither of those words are what you thought of when you quoted 1 Thessalonians 5:16, are they? But this is the truth about this real emotion that is a desired part of our life, one of the fruits of the Spirit we are to grow into. Dr. Brene’ Brown wrote this beautiful analogy for what joy is:
Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments—often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we’re so afraid of the dark that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith. (The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, p. 81.)
Joy is strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith. Think about each one of those words. Do you see the vulnerability in each one of those words? Do you feel the warmth of each one of those words?
Joy is hiding everywhere–sometimes even within a painful moment mixed in with so many other emotions. Joy shows itself when you play in the rain, even in the prison yard.
Be brave. Let the joy well up inside of you. You are worthy enough to feel it.