Times of Joy
Joe Clark ~~ Nov 28, 2002

As I have made my way through life, I have often pondered the roots of joy. I surely have a number of things to be joyous about, from my heritage to the blessings God has provided in the last several years to my eternal destiny. But what are the specific sources of joy? What are the things in life that take priority in the "joygiving" category?

I've noticed two broad types of joy. First, there are the joys of the present and the future. These joys are the things that happen in daily life that provide great happiness. These are also the things in life that remind us of the promises God has given us for the future. The joys of the autumn remind us of the seasons in life, how God is in charge of them, and how the springtime always follows the winter season. The joys of friendship remind us of the love and sense of community that God has placed deep within the heart and soul of each of us. The joys of accomplishment in so many different ways help us to feel good about ourselves and give us self-worth. The joys of uplifting music, a spectacular sunrise or sunset, and (for me) a glimpse at the stars above seem to help us reach higher toward "the beyond."

But what I've noticed is that these present types of joy are sometimes overshadowed or influenced by the second type -- the joys of the past. It seems to me that a great number of times when I think, "Wow, I feel joyful," my thoughts are somehow attached to the past. Much of the joy of holidays, for example, is the joy of remembering my past, for past joyous times I've experienced on the holiday and for cherished holiday traditions. The joy of holidays also has a lot to do with the heritage of the celebrated day. New Year's Day gives me joy, yes partly because of new beginnings, but also because of it's marking of a year gone by and the natural tendency to think of what has gone on in the past year, both for me as an individual and for the various communities I am a part of. Easter reminds me of God's promises, but it also reminds me to think back to what it was like in Jerusalem at the beginning of the current age. Thanksgiving is about being thankful now, but that thankfulness often stems from joys experienced in the past. Christmas is about enjoying friends and family (and yes gifts), but it is also about remembering past Christmas holiday cheer and about remembering that first Christmas. Even birthdays remind me of the joys of the past.

In some ways, it seems as though the present reminds us of the past (our individual past), the past reminds us of the distant past (the collective past or our "heritage"), the distant past reminds us of the timeless, transcendent things, and it is ultimately these transcendent things that take our breath away with the truest sense of joy, the joy in spite of where we are, who we are, who we aren't, where we have been, what shape we are in, or where we are heading on earth.

So an interesting question: what is the root of joy? Is it the past? or the present? I'm not sure. I think it is a strange mixture of both. In some happy way, perhaps this is the way that joy renews itself in our lives. We are joyful often when we remember the past (even if the past itself was not always joyful). But as we go through our lives, we experience many many things, some of which bring joy immediately, and some of which require time and distance to provide joy (and some that never end up giving joy). So our experiences do us well in two ways -- immediate joy and remembered joy. Perhaps it is this fact that gives us the treasured ability to "bounce back" from utterly joyless times in life (which we all have had). Perhaps it is God's blessed gift of the past that helps us to set our sights once again on the joyful things in life, rather than the things that do not produce joy.

I think on this Thanksgiving day I am thankful for joy in all it's curious attributes. I am thankful even for the strange ways in which life seems to work, and how the present seems inseparably bound to the past. I believe that life truly is a web we weave, and we are in some large sense a product of our past. The past is not always a happy memory, of course, but somehow I've seen that God finds ways of "turning our memories into gold" as they say, both happy memories and sad ones. I've seen that God finds ways of turning our lives toward joy, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

I hope that as you go through life you will have much to be thankful for and joyful about, both in the future, the present, and in the golden memories of the past.