For some reason lately, it’s been on my heart. It’s come up in conversations, I’ve reflected on it, and I think there’s something to that… so I’d like to share some of that with you.
Joy is what our hearts are longing for. I don’t mean happiness, because happiness and joy are not the same thing. Obviously, we want to be happy. But I would argue that ultimately it’s not happiness we’re after; it’s joy.
A lot of times happiness and joy are grouped together as the same thing, but that’s not the case. The easiest way to understand it – joy is lasting and happiness is fleeting. For example, my friendships that are rooted in Christ bring me joy, whereas a chocolate bar brings me happiness. When I go after what I want I have happiness for a short time, but when I go after what the Lord wants for me I have joy that lasts for a long time. The joy of the Lord goes so much beyond the happiness of chocolate. See the difference?
But here’s the thing. Joy makes all the difference. Joy comes from the Lord. He created us for joy, and so naturally, when we do what He has planned for us, when we follow in His steps, when we empty ourselves to be filled with Him, we will find the joy that we seek.
This is something I discovered in a huge way this past summer. I encountered a deeper joy this summer than I had ever experienced before. I spent it as a Totus Tuus teacher. This means that I traveled around to different parishes all summer with a team of 2 seminarians and 2 other college students and witnessed to the faith to 1st through 12th graders. It was hard work, but the burden was light. And that my friends, is because I was completely filled with joy. Filled to the point of overflowing. I have not experienced a joy like that before, and I am not able to put into words how it felt to have the joy of the Lord radiating from my soul. I say this not to be prideful, but because that is the closest I can come to explaining what it felt like.
But the thing is, in the eyes of the world it doesn’t make any sense that I would encounter such a deep joy doing what I did. I emptied myself this summer. It was truly hard and draining work to always be on, teach little children, meet families, and witness to teenagers every evening. I was so tired but had to keep going. By the end, I had nothing left. I was empty. But this is where the Lord is able to work. Since I was empty, the Lord was able to fill that empty space with Himself – with pure joy. I was no longer in the way of His work. That joy carried me. The joy came in various ways (especially through my teammates and their own radiating joy), but it was ultimately from the Lord. This is not to say that I didn’t have my difficult moments and my selfish moments of failure – because believe me, I am weak and failed all the time – but in the end, the Lord carried me and I had everything I needed to accomplish His work.
The Lord called me to Totus Tuus this past summer, to the specific team I was on, to the specific crosses He wanted me to carry, and to that specific place. I said yes to that call and accepted what came. By allowing the Lord to empty me and fill me with Himself (surrendering imperfectly of course, because I truly am very weak), I was given a glimpse of the joy that comes from the Lord. And it’s lasting.
But this joy – this joy I tasted this summer – is what each and every one of our hearts are created for and long for. And in the end, this joy only comes from the Lord because it is a gift that He gives us. It’s not something we can buy or earn or steal, and not even something we deserve. It is simply a gift of love from Him who loves us. In the hard moments we can ask Him for it and we should choose it, but ultimately it comes from Him.
This gift of joy is closely linked with the gift of our vocation (what God is asking us to do with our lives). My wise roommate really helped me put a lot of these pieces together last night in a great conversation we had. The Lord will indeed ask us to sacrifice in pursuing what He wants for us, and what He wants from us might not line up with what we want at first (there were so many other things I could have done with my summer). But He will never ask us to sacrifice His joy. His joy is a gift He gives us, as His vocation is similarly a gift He gives us out of love. When we say yes to whatever the Lord may be asking us to do, surely His joy will follow. If I hadn’t said yes to His call to serve as a Totus Tuus teacher, then I never would have encountered the joy He gave me this past summer.
I don’t know what the Lord wants me to do next, but I am sure of one thing. If I say yes to whatever plan the Lord has for me, then His joy – joy that satisfies my longing heart – will surely follow.
Ask the Lord to give you His joy. Ask Him what He wants of you. Do not be afraid, for His yoke is easy and His burden light.