Do you ever manufacture joy? In other words, do you put on a happy face, even when, below the surface, you are distracted, discouraged and joyless?
Many Christians feel we must be transparent and express our emotions, albeit in a proper, Godly context. Otherwise, they say, we are not being the person God made us to be. If we fake it, they say, we are being hypocritical.
But have you ever answered the phone at the very moment you were arguing with your spouse? Or while you were frustrated with your children?
In an instant, you went from George Costanza’s raving father to bubbly Kathie Lee Gifford. All the while, the person on the other end of the phone had no idea you were just about to explode: “I’ve had it. I can’t take it anymore!”
How are we able to turn on the charm and turn off the hysteria so easily?
One of my favorite episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” is when Andy counsels an older couple who cannot seem to stop yelling at one another, even though they find a way to be kind and thoughtful to everyone else in town. So, he trains them on how to be nice to one another, teaching the husband to say, “Morning, honey,” through gritted teeth, and the wife to respond back, “Morning, dear.”
Eventually, they learn how to be polite to each other. Unfortunately, it turns out their anger never actually disappeared. Instead, it was released on the rest of Mayberry. In the end, Andy counsels them to return to being mean to each other because it is the way they express their love and also because it seems more pragmatic for them to be just who they were made to be.
Is this what God desires? For us to be ourselves, no matter the emotional windfall we leave in our wake? Does God want us to be ourselves and reveal every emotion we have, regardless of the consequences we leave behind? Or is it proper to smother some emotion for the sake of peace and to force ourselves to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit even when no feeling of love, joy or peace exist?
2020 was a difficult year for most of us. And yes, I had to manufacture quite a bit of joy and contentment, even when the feelings were not always there.
However, 2020 taught me a great deal. The most important thing I learned was this: Joy is not a feeling or an emotion at all. It is a choice! It is choosing to be vulnerable so that God may be glorified through it. It is choosing to find contentment even when we feel emotionally drained. It is believing, that even during a season of spiritual apathy, that we can still know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is still good.
I’ve also come to believe that the experience of joylessness and spiritual apathy can be a gift, but only if we trust that God is good and that His promises are true. This doesn’t remove all our feelings of joylessness, but it sure helps to know that the truth of God’s goodness triumphs over any temporary feelings of hopelessness and despair we might experience.
So, if you felt hopelessness in 2020, I hope you still know that God is good. If you experienced worry because you lost your job or your business, my prayer is that you cling to the joy that comes from knowing God is still good and on His throne. And if you feel isolated and lonely, I pray you choose joy because you know the promises of God are true.
If you experienced grief over the loss of a loved one and could not have a funeral celebration to honor them, I hope you found a way to remain content because you knew the secret of being content and you knew the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. You knew that in this world you would have trouble (joylessness, discouragement, spiritual apathy, loneliness), but you “took heart” because you knew the One that overcame the world.
That is a joy that will last forever, and a joy that, in heaven, we will never have to manufacture.
Eric Veal has been a member of Southeast Christian Church for 30 years.