Joy does not exist outside of a relationship. That’s a bold statement. It’s also true.
Joy lays the foundation for how well we handle relationships, emotions, pain and pleasure throughout our lifetime.
Joy is important to God and to us.
Joy gives us the bravery to share our hearts with God and others. Hence why #choosejoy is a popular hashtag and tattoo.
God designed us to feel his presence. Joy is God’s face shining on us. Notice the face of God in the Bible.
Numbers 6:24-26 – May the Lord bless you and protect you. 25 May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. 26 May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.
Psalm 16:11 – You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.
Psalm 4:6-7 – Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, Lord. 7 You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
Psalm 67:1 – May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us.
When Moses was at his lowest point in the wilderness after smashing the 10 commandments and in a wrestling time with God, this is what he asked of God, Exodus 33:15-20 – Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” 17 The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.” 19 The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20 But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Notice that Moses wasn’t allowed to see God’s actual face but God declared he would show himself in mercy and compassion. When you show mercy and compassion to people, particularly to the “others” in your life, aren’t they able to see God’s face in you better?
Seeing a face matters.
We sing lots of songs in church with lyrics such as “in your presence is mercy and joy.” What does that mean to you now?
Seeing God’s face matters.
Joy is the foundation for a secure attachment with God.
When I trust that God is happy with me and smiling at me, this joy naturally removes fear from the relationship. Read the lead-your-brain science on joy again.
When we put on a mask in our relationships, our joy starts decreasing.
When churches foster a performance-based environment that encourages us to simply put on a happy face when we are suffering, you will quickly run out of joy. Think of the joyless church services you have been to.
We need people in our lives. People whose faces we know.
Relationship with God and relationship with nature also contribute to joy. These are still relationships.
Here’s a list of the negatives that isolation leads to. (List created by Beth Moore from Surpassing Value of Knowing Christ.) And you know these to be true:
- Addictions are nursed.
- Wounds are licked.
- Imaginations run wild.
- Facts give way to fiction.
- Grudges are nursed, you are offended over everything.
- Offenses become unpardonable.
- Friends become suspects.
- Those we differ with become demonized.
- You come to believe that God is not there, that God is not good, that God is not faithful, that God is not fair, that God will never forgive you.
Did you see how isolation affects your personal relationships which grows into your view of God?
Do you see why when church hurt is attached to what someone did to betray you that God is blamed?
Joy helps us regulate painful emotions. Joy is a supra-emotion because it can go on top of and connect with other emotions. For example, you can feel anger and joy. Or sadness and joy.
This helps James 1:2 make much more sense, brain sense. Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
Joy is mixed with pain. We are hard-wired to make it through pain and we also get to feel joy. Because of joy, you do feel that God is with you in that anger and sadness and other big emotions.
Then there is this beautiful bonus. You can feel another level of joy when people carry your pain. The faces that have helped me carry my pain will forever be a part of my story. I wrote a book about this.
Joy does not replace the unpleasant emotions but combines with my emotions to keep me relationally connected and out of isolation. Joy needs relationship.
I need faces to tell me that this pain will end. I need faces to tell me the truth of God’s promises.
This is why funerals are gatherings of people so we don’t suffer alone.
We need faces for our brains to read joy to help us through the big emotions. (Again, read the brain science.)
Painful emotions are also often attached to people so we want to isolate. When we isolate, we are cutting off the fuel our brains need to deal with the pain. So we turn to nonrelational sources to stop the pain like shopping therapy, Netflix binges, every sort of addiction.
This is why we mindlessly scroll social media when we feel sad. We are literally taking away our face from people.
We become vulnerable to pseudo-joys because our brain is seeking for joy. I often call these numbing behaviors. They feel like a solution to the pain. Sometimes they give us joy. We believe we are healing as we have that extra glass of wine. But our brains need joy to help us heal–true joy that is attached to faces.
Increasing our joy will naturally calm our cravings for pseudo-joys.
Bonus thought: Building joy should be an integrated part of any addiction program.
Feeling joy in our bodies indicates that our right brain is functioning smoothly. Joy helps us regulate our emotions and endure suffering. Joy does not remove our pain but gives us the strength to endure.
Remember that joy is relational involving faces so “joy in suffering” means that God and our communities are glad to be with us in our distress.
I don’t believe Jesus ever lost sight of the Father’s face during the crucifixion. This joy sustained Jesus.
Hebrews 12:2 – We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Do you see the joy mentioned? Jesus must have been looking at his Father’s face in those dark clouds.
How do we grow in our faith? By keeping our eyes on Jesus. The eyes are on our face. Our face connects with the face of Jesus. Joy is the foundation for a secure bond with God.
This is a bold statement to make but it is how our brain works. A brain designed by our loving Creator.