Some of my team recently attended a talk by Chris Stefanick called “Living Joy” where Stefanick laid out some practical ways to habitually choose to be joyful in one’s everyday life. It served as the perfect capstone to my recent musings about where true joy comes from and how anyone can attain it right now.
In his “Living Joy” talk (and his book of the same name), Stefanick describes “joy” as a firmly rooted contentment that remains constant despite outside failures, misfortunes, and struggles. It also runs deeper and more consistently than our turbulent surface-level emotions, although it’s true that exterior feelings of happiness often bubble up from joy. To describe joy’s relationship to our other emotions, Stefanick uses the example of a funeral: on the outside, we might be mourning the loss of a loved one from this world, but in the depths of our heart, we might hope that they are eternally in heaven with God. That interior hope comes from taking joy in God’s mercy and promises, and it may not necessarily show through an obvious expression of happiness.
My Idea of Joy
Growing up, my idea of joy looked nothing like Stefanick’s definition; joy for me always seemed like a far-off destination that could only be obtained by doing something to earn it. In fact, the desire for joy was what motivated me to go to college; I thought all I had to do was get the degree for the music education career I wanted, and when I got that career, THEN I would finally be joyful. But to make a long story short, by the time I started teaching and got my degrees, I found my music education job unfulfilling and, ultimately, joyless.
It wasn’t until I joined NET that I began to understand where lasting joy comes from, and through prayer and interacting with parishioners and teammates, I learned that joy comes from knowing God’s love for each and every one of us and accepting it as the free gift it is.
God’s Powerful Love
One of the most important things to know about God’s love is how powerful it is. In the last month, I have been preparing to renew my consecration to Mary through Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory. In Week 3, Fr. Gaitley reflects upon the life of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, particularly the “terrible darkness” in her soul that lasted for decades until the end of her life. It was eventually revealed to her that this darkness, which nearly brought her to despair, was actually a share in Jesus’ love and burning desire for the salvation of souls. And this desire doesn’t burn for every soul collectively or for souls in general, but it burns for the souls of every person individually.
A Love So Great
Whenever I heard that God loves me, I tended to equate it with a vaguely stronger version of love a married couple might express to one another. But Mother Teresa takes it a step further and describes God’s love as one so great that it’s like a thirst. However, unlike humans who need water to survive, God is complete in and of Himself and does not need our love to function. And yet, God thirsts for us anyway, so much so that He humbled Himself to live among us as a human in the person of Jesus Christ who was born in the back of a barn and died at the hands of His own creation…just so that same creation could be redeemed. This is the profundity of the words “I Thirst” which Jesus uttered on the cross; He thirsts for our love not for His own fulfillment, but for ours.
And not only is God’s love infinitely strong and selfless, but it is also enduring, unconditional, and freely given. No matter how bad or numerous your sins are or how far you stray from God’s will, God will continue to thirst for you. In fact, he will pursue you all the more intently. You also don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love, either. God didn’t give us the commandments nor the beatitudes as lists of things we have to do before He can love us. Rather, they were given so man could know how to accept God’s ever-extending offer of love and not separate themselves from it.
My Soul Will Smile
When I pondered how significant all of this was, I knew I had found the source of the joy I had been looking so long for. Here was a love that was deep and personal; that never changed or wavered; that didn’t depend on me being “good enough”…it was all there, ready for me to accept as a free gift in its entirety; right now, today. Nothing else on earth comes close to the value of this love. If you search for joy anywhere else, you will ALWAYS be left longing for more as I was when I tried to find joy in my dream job.
God wants you to be joyful and is always near, waiting for you to accept His gift of love. You may not always feel happy every moment of the day and times of pain and sorrow are bound to crop up. But through it all, if you stand upon the truth that the King of the Universe loves YOU and died for YOU, your soul will always have a reason to smile.
Excellent and very inspiring, Stephen. Your thoughts remind me very much of a poem that I read many years ago entitled, “The Hound of Heaven”. You would enjoy it, as well as the short book by Dorothy Day, who now is being considered for sainthood. It’s entitled, “The Long Loneliness”. As a child, Dorothy lived in San Francisco during the great earthquake of the 1930s. She was struck, in an unforgettable way, by the love and assistance people extended to each other during all the devastation ensued. It changed her life, and resulted in her founding the Catholic Worker Movement, and establishing numerous shelters for the poor and homeless throughout the U.S. Truly, a remarkable life.
Stay well and remain joyful,
I found this copy of the poem “Hound of Heaven” .
I thought you would enjoy reading it. Follow your heart in all that you do, knowing that “the hound” loves you.