So far this month we have defined and examined joy with all its synonyms, beauty in literature, and a few other useful and pragmatic applications. It is now time to secure the foundation of joy in the world around us so we may have a fullness of joy in our lives.
The Psalmist tells us that, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (KJV, Psalms 16:11). Where can we find these pleasures of lasting joy?
The Lord Jesus taught, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (KJV, Luke 15:4-7).
Such joy of necessity includes finding the intellectually, spiritually, and temporally malnourished. They need liberation by a colleague, friend, or benefactor. The gift to help another is a gift that all can discover and use.
Notice the requirements of the journey that belong to the liberator. Leaving the comfortable station and moving perhaps toward, perhaps, a lesser station of happiness because we are incomplete with an empty chair in our home, classroom, or work. The persevering “until we find it.” Don’t be put off by the word repentance. It comes from the Greek word metanoias suggesting a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. Finding and being found are at the root of this process. It is a secular and spiritual work of liberating the mind, body, and heart or soul of man. There is nothing more beautiful than watching someone find and follow the path of freedom through knowledge, truth, and wisdom. We all recognize that learning is the circle of growth for a fulfilling and joyful life. We come to understand that our knowledge will never be complete or entirely perfect. It is in the application of discovering, learning, and changing through the repeated and exchanging roles of being the one finding, and the one being found, that we discover the path to emancipation and fullness of joy.
You may recall our mentor Dr. Viktor Frankl teaching that most of us are on a quest to be happy. But happiness is too often about what we can take in from the external world to feel good. Frankl argued that the best life is one in search of meaning. In a world set on consumption, pleasure, and fun, Frankl wants to flip the question from “What can I get?” to “What is wanted of me?” This is a paradigm shift that takes us from the realm of self-actualization to self-transcendence. In Man’s Search for Meaning Dr. Viktor Frankl states,
In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity. From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past – the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized – and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past…Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 142-143)
I would add to this quote that when we cease leaving the ninety-nine to find the one or bring back that which was lost, we shrivel and die.
Consider the parable of The Prodigal Son that comes on the heels of finding the lost sheep. The young prodigal thought he had it made because he was given more money than he could have imagined. But times changed and he lost all his inheritance in riotous living. He then joined himself with a “citizen of the land” (citizens had privileges many others did not) where he could at least work for his pay. But that type of living, he noticed, was less than what he could have with his father. So, he decided to head back home. Notice the joy in these verses by both the giver and receiver.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.King James Bible, Luke 15:20-23
What a lesson in joy! We may see better why John said this, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (KJV, 3 John 1:4).
As part of this journey, we attach ourselves to The True Vine. We find and bear fruitful lives of self-transcendence. Consider, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (KJV, John 15: 2-5). Fullness of joy is a perpetual journey or round of leaving our comforts to minister and bless others with our gifts and, in turn, accepting their reciprocation.
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (KJV, John 15:11-13). The crescendo of joy is found in losing self for friends and others.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.King James Bible, Matthew 25: 35-36
Thus, the liberating of another is the most magnanimous work there is upon this earth. It allows us all to enter the realm of becoming by seeing something with new eyes, ears, and hearts.
Where do your greatest memories of joy reside? What renews you?
Artwork: Marten van Valckenborch, Parable of Christ as the Good Shepherd