“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)

We are all on a wild adventure we call life. There are twists and turns along the way, both good and bad, but as we walk on this journey, we are called to find joy. Finding joy when things are going well is easy, but finding joy when things are not going well is a challenge that faces each and every one of us. In order to understand how to attain this pervasive joy, we should first explore what joy is.

What is Joy?

  1. Joy is more than happiness

In a world full of tragedies, depression, and anxiety, a commonly stated goal in therapy is to find happiness. Fr. Mike Schmitz says that this goal is a mistaken one because we are not made for happiness, but instead, we are made for joy[1]. The distinction between the two is that happiness is an emotion, and, like all emotions, it is subject to the whims of the changing world around us. Joy, on the other hand, is something which can be found outside of an emotional response, and even in times of suffering, joy can persist. It seems like an oxymoron to say that we can find joy even in the trials of life, but we must look no further than the joyful mysteries of the rosary to find our answer. Fr. Mike Schmitz shares his reflections on the Annunciation in his video “Finding Joy in Uncertainty,” and he shares that Mary’s fiat to become the Mother of God was marked with great uncertainty[2]. She did not know if her fiancée, Joseph, would take her to be his wife after she announced her pregnancy or how all of the challenges that lie before her would be reconciled. Her “yes” to the Lord was marked by great uncertainty, but we celebrate this mystery by calling it joyful. True joy, therefore, comes from the Lord.

  1. Gift from the Holy Spirit

Fr. Mike Schmitz says, “Joy is the abiding and pervasive sense of wellbeing.”[3] In other words, no matter what circumstances we face in our lives, both good and bad, we can possess joy. Joy is distinct from happiness because it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that dwells in each of us desires to provide both peace and joy. However, it is up to us to be open to receiving these gifts by relinquishing control of our daily plans to the power of God through the Holy Spirit. We can look back to Mary’s example in the mystery of the Annunciation. She says “yes” to allowing the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, thereby bringing God to humanity. By allowing God’s plan to be fulfilled in her, she found peace and joy despite the many questions that remain.

  1. The greatest mystery of Christianity

One of the most counter cultural parts of the Christian faith is the mystery of the cross. It is through Christ’s suffering and death that eternal life is opened to the human race. Somehow, something so horrific can magnify something so beautiful. As Christians, we are called to “take up our cross” and follow the Lord[4]. We are not called to suffer for sufferings sake, but instead, we are called to trust that God makes good out of the suffering we endure. This eternal hope is what perpetuates a life of joy[5]. If there is only suffering, then finding joy in the suffering does not make sense. The joy comes with knowing our good and gracious Savior has a more magnificent plan, and we wait in joyful anticipation as that plan unfolds.

How do we grow in joy?

  1. Personal Prayer

Prayer is our lifeline to God. Like any relationship, communication is key. Developing a prayer life is developing a friendship with God. As we learn more about who God is and we grow in friendship with him, we begin to understand the way He works in our lives. Looking at the lives of the saints, we see the constant perseverance as they strive to know and love God. God desires a deep intimacy with us, and this intimacy is fostered through the time we spend with our Lord. In other words, God is good, so he can only have good plans for us. As we trust in these good plans, we can have joy in our journey knowing that God is for us.

  1. Living in the Service of God and Others

St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta says we find joy by putting Jesus and others before ourselves. It is in giving ourselves away that we find ourselves[6]. Serving someone who may have bigger struggles in their lives can be a truly humbling experience because it enlightens the reality that even in suffering, joy can be found. When we are able to learn from others who experience the world through the lens of suffering, we begin to see how God is able to transform suffering. It is only in seeing the world from someone else’s perspective that we can see God’s plan manifested in their lives. Volunteering with the homeless, elderly, or disabled provides a new insight into the gratitude and joy that we can experience despite the suffering of financial, physical, or social ailments.

  1. Living a life of grace through the sacraments

Finally, attaining joy comes from living a life of grace connected to the sacraments. Sacraments like Reconciliation open the door for us to be reconnected with God after we have fallen away from His path. Without Reconciliation, we cannot have the eternal hope that allows us to find joy in the hardships. Reconciliation opens that door for us to reconnect with the Lord as we strive to grow in our relationship with Him. Next, attending Mass weekly and receiving the Eucharist allows for a greater intimacy with the Lord to be fostered in our lives. We become united with our Lord in and through the Eucharist, and by this union, we come to know Him better. In knowing the Lord, we can grow to trust His plan which brings consolation to the uncertainty of the future.

Having joy in the journey is a lifelong pursuit. It is easy to fall away from our prayer lives and the sacraments. However, the more we can look to the Lord, to trust His plan and to serve Him, the more peace and joy we will experience amidst the storms we face in our lives. By rooting ourselves in our unchanging God, we can have stability as we make life transitions, face anxiety-producing decisions, or experience the uncertainty of daily life. God desires to bring stability into our lives and especially our hearts, so let this year be the year to hand over control to God. As we embrace God’s plan, joy and peace will be sure to follow.

[1]  Why Joy is More Than Christian Happiness by Fr. Mike Schmitz: http://media.ascensionpress.com/podcast/why-joy-is-more-christian-than-happiness/

[2] Finding Joy in Uncertainty by Fr. Mike Schmitz: http://media.ascensionpress.com/video/having-joy-in-uncertainty/

[3] Why Joy is More Than Christian Happiness by Fr. Mike Schmitz: http://media.ascensionpress.com/podcast/why-joy-is-more-christian-than-happiness/

[4] Matthew 16: 24-26

[5] The Christian is a Life of Joy and Suffering by Fr. Angelus: http://media.ascensionpress.com/video/the-christian-life-is-a-life-of-joy-and-suffering/

[6] Jesus, the Word to be Spoken letters from Mother Theresa compiled by Fr. Angelo D. Scolozzi