It’s something everyone talks about. It’s the word my friend has tattooed on the back of her arm. I love the song “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” I love to sing it and I love watching it in Sister Act II. Happiness is a feeling and it can be fleeting but joy is supposed to sustain us. It goes deeper, down into the marrow of our bones, so even when we feel weakened by the sorrows of life, our backs bent with pain as we weep, that joy is there, living and breathing in our bones. For that reason alone, it is a hard concept. How can this be? How can joy exist in this world?
But recently, I saw pure joy in action.It wasn’t a tattoo or a song (which are great in and of themselves). It was a dog at the beach. Her name is Brownie and I sat on the huge piece of driftwood and I kneeled in the outrageously cold Pacific Ocean so that I could photograph her joy. Then I just watched.I’ve seen happy dogs. I’ve owned them. But Brownie at Cannon Beach was no longer a dog. I observed her for the whole half an hour she ran up and down the beach, dug up wood from the sand, chased balls, swam. She was no longer a dog but a lesson. Here was joy. Complete joy.It was simple. It is simple. It is simple for a dog who does not know certain words–diagnosis, cancer, surgery, pain, death, loss, grief, illness, radiation, chemotherapy, disease–to be joyful. But Brownie knows other words. She knows sit and lay down. She knows stay and heel and come. But at the beach, Brownie’s owners did not use those words. They unclipped her leash silently and watched her go, watched her fly.She was blessedly free on that beach and she was also joy incarnate. So I have to wonder, after much thought, if there is a connection between those two big ideas. Can joy be experienced without freedom? Can freedom exist without joy? And what is freedom? Because Brownie was free and yet she was not free to bite humans or other dogs. She was not free to swim and swim and not return. There were parameters and yet she did not feel them nor mind them because she was joyful doing the things she could do–swim, fetch, dig, chase, all kinds of things. And I can tell you from watching Brownie, she did not feel horned in. Not a bit.It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Years ago, I spent weeks digging into Galatians 5:1, finding every sermon and commentary I could on it. Christ died so that we might be free but was I living that way?
After Brownie’s leash was unclipped did she stay still and sit beside her owners or did she look at the beach they brought her to and when they told her, “Have it,” she did? Was I having at it? And if I wasn’t (I wasn’t) then I was living as if two lies were true: Jesus did not complete his job on the cross if he died so that I might be live in freedom or Jesus did complete his job but it did not matter to me. I did not care.
Intellectually, I can spot both of those as lies. My heart though…My heart. Sometimes it sees the beach and takes off at a sprint and sometimes worries, anxieties, fear of failure leave me on a leash does not exist. And on that leash, there can be no joy.I am completely free and yet just like there are things Brownie cannot do, even with her freedom, there are things I cannot control. I cannot control other people or their reactions. I cannot control the diagnosis a doctor gives. I cannot even control large parts of my own illness. But I am still free and I can still know joy, even when I someone I love waits for results on a scan, even when another person goes into surgery. I am free to fail with the gifts and passions He’s given me. I know joy in Him, even when it is hard, even when I want to swim and swim and not return, even when I want to bite someone, because He has given me freedom to do a thousand other things on a beach on a slightly overcast day about 45 minutes outside of Portland at Cannon Beach.
What are your thoughts on joy? And don’t you just want to dig alongside Brownie?
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