Earlier this year when the leaves first began to turn, my family moved for the 4th(and hopefully last) time in 2 years. As this summer approaches I am seeing life I did not work for spring up. I’ve been exploring the bounty someone else planned, invested in, and hoped for in my small corner of earth. Whoever the woman was, she loved gardening. I’ve eagerly anticipated finding out what would appear as the days grew warmer, and longer. Tulips, Crocus, Peony, Roses. SO.MANY. ROSES.
The corner of my yard became a thorny jungle and I realized 15 rose bushes would be too much to maintain for a novice like me. I offered several bushes to anyone who wanted to come dig them up. As we chatted and dug, I realized three of the bushes I thought were roses were actually producing blueberries. Like I said, I’m a novice. Since I didn’t even know they should be producing fruit the plants had little support. I had done nothing to help them winter over, add nutrients, or even prune the dead branches. However, they were made to produce blueberries, and they automatically brought forth fruit when the season was right.
That is how fruit works. At the right time, for no reason other than the creative intent of God who fashioned them, my bushes were dripping with berries.
The natural process challenged me to think about the fruit of my life. Much of what God has called fruit, I have over time turned into striving. The biggest culprit: Joy. While it is true that joy is a trademark of the Christian life, somewhere along the way my mind had adopted a caricature of “joy” far from the truth.
Always happy. Fairly cheesy. Dependable, hard working, always excited. She doesn’t get upset, or at least doesn’t show it. The perfect friend, a listener, this woman won’t let you down. Even though she comes off as inauthentic at times, you know that she truly loves others, and loves God. She must have figured it all out. Her life runs smoothly, with plenty of time and energy to pour into everyone around her. If she faces a rare bad day, she has a perfect platitude ready and waiting. She signs up for every team, every need. When life is hard, she is happy anyway. She keeps striving.
Striving is the worst.
The very things that should be natural outpourings of being a child of God and listening to the Holy Spirit instead became a checklist—a measure to attain. In the end, it wasn’t joy at all, but a facade of cheerfulness smothered in good intentions, but without true power.
I am exhausted. Are you?
Is anyone else walking around acting like they have joy figured out, because it’s what Christians are supposed to look like?
I have good news. Joy isn’t in the circumstances, something we must scramble to obtain, or the varsity Christian team mantra.
A little digging, and I discovered that the word for joy in Greek is tied to grace. I’m no scholar, I took one class that gave me enough understanding to use the biblehub.com Greek interlinear and a concordance to study word meanings. Joy (chara) and grace (charis) are so close that if we read Greek today we’d see these cousin-words and immediately feel the connection. Deeper into definitions I determined this: joy is the ability to see God’s grace.
Did you get that? The root of joy is seeing God’s grace at work in your life. There is no joy you can produce, it is caused by noticing God’s gifts. His love. His favor. On the darkest day, as long as His grace remains, so can your joy.
Though happiness and circumstances do not induce joy, neither does working and striving. My false picture of “joy” had a lot more in common with people pleasing or attempting to earn God’s favor, than living life as an outpouring of the acceptance already found in Jesus. Joy isn’t a goal to put on a list and something to “work on” improving. It’s a fruit of the spirit; the natural product that comes forth from the Holy Spirit, not from us.
Joy growing from the seed of grace is the reason we can experience deep joy in the midst of sorrow. I look back at every season of suffering and difficulty, the times when I felt that Joy had left me forever, and I see that God had actually generously sprinkled them with seeds of grace. They did produce joy, I just didn’t realize that is what it was because I thought I needed to work to find it.
The friend who texted they’d been thinking of me and asked how to pray, when they didn’t know. He has not forgotten me.
A slice of red velvet cake, my wedding cake, that showed up on my desk on a day marriage was hard. He’s got this, do not fear.
The way that even when I could not make myself pick up my Bible, he put something in front of me that I needed. On Facebook, through a friend, the song stuck in my head. He is still working.
The magnolias blooming in the rain, when loss and grief were close and tears were never far. He is making all things beautiful in his time.
Readers, No matter what season you are in, can you see seeds of grace? How has God given you joy?
Holly is a wife, mother of one, and foster mother to many. She seeks to glorify God in all she does, for all her life. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She welcomes people into her life, into her heart, and into her home with hopes of offering encouragement. You can find more from Holly here at Anchored Voices or at her blog Called to Restore.