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In the previous post, I talked about love as a relational gift that’s meant to be given to others. In this post, we look a bit more closely at joy.

Joy is often confused with happiness. The two are sisters. Joy is the elder, with memory in her skin. She is the deep and abiding contentment that brings our cheeks to rise in a smile. Jesus told his disciples about the details of his sacrifice and how his returning to the Father would be to their benefit. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). The Greek word used here for “joy” is the same for both Jesus’s joy and our own. Jesus’s joy is rooted in his love for the Father and in the unflinching reciprocation of that love. His joy lives in a relationship. Our joy thus lives in a relationship. And because that relationship doesn’t end, our joy can’t ultimately leave. We can be blinded to it, of course. We can feel joyless, but that doesn’t mean the joy is gone. The joy has already been given; it’s not taken away from us. Happiness, in contrast, comes and goes, flickering like a candlelight. It resembles the warmth of joy in its flame, but joy is the constantly burning hearth in winter—steady, certain, always warming up our bones when we gather around it. When happiness leaves, joy stays.

To switch metaphors, we might say that joy stays because it’s rooted in more than yourself. Its roots climb down into the heart of God, who gave the gift. In contrast, happiness is the flowerhead—beautiful to look at and smell, but seasonal and fleeting on this side of eternity. Happiness travels, but joy makes its home in relationships.

Happiness travels, but joy makes its home in relationships.

In God’s giving circle (I expand on this here), we give joy to others by giving ourselves in relationship to them, by staying when happiness leaves, by remaining through the seasons and the years. Joy lives in marriages, aged through summers and winters. Joy lives in father and son, mother and daughter, and the legacy of a family, which matures from infancy to adulthood like a great tree. Joy lives in friendships that linger beyond conversations and banter. The joy of the self-giving God becomes the treasure of his self-giving people, a people who stay. That’s how we enter the giving circle here. And remember, we can enter that circle only because of Christ, who stayed on the cross for us, who stays in our hearts at this very moment. We thrive in God’s giving circle by embracing and then delivering the joy that Christ has given to us.

This joy lives in a home built upon God’s love, the God-gift that supports all of the other God-gifts. And that home stands through the weather of happiness and sorrow. Joy, in short, is not so much something we chase as it is something that grows around and through us. We can be surrounded by it. As Marilyn McEntyre writes, “Joy is the objective, the hope, the evidence, and the outcome of a life lived in God’s love, burning brilliant as gold in fire even in the very midst of sorrow.”[1]

As with the Spirit’s gift of love, the gift of joy is relational and calls us to self-giving. In other words, joy loosens our limbs so that we can dance in God’s giving circle, pointing others to the joy that outlasts every song of happiness. Our joy is thus rooted in our relationship with the God who is love, and it’s thisGod who encourages us to mirror that joy in the relationships all around us.


[1] Marilyn McEntyre, Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016), 15.

Like this post? You’ll LOVE The Book of Giving!

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