Essay: JOY


Michelle Mantor and “Sake” & “Remy” – Published in Houston PetTalk, December Issue, 2007. Photo by Gittings PhotographyJOY

JOY, along with peace, love and hope, are essential themes in my faith that encompass Advent and the Christmas season. When I sat down to write about JOY, I realized that I could not just write about JOY alone because it is a mysterious and complex term. Is it a state of mind? Is it a momentary feeling? Some may wonder if it’s attainable while others wonder if it’s sustainable. And then I began to wonder why I assigned JOY to myself for this feature story!

In my quest to eloquently define and pen beautiful prose about JOY, I started thinking about the things in life that have brought me JOY…the gift of my two children, saving a litter of kittens abandoned by their mother, my first encounter with Caribbean blue waters and the wonderous sight of beautiful sea life just below, the weeks following after I brought my Briard puppy home…she was so cool!!, And I could go on and on with other things that have brought JOY to my life but ultimately, I believe I am confusing happiness and pleasure with JOY. Onward with my quest.

Next, I thought about JOY as it relates to the Holidays. As we rush through the Christmas season, we pay homage to the term JOY along with love and peace and happiness. “JOY to the world, Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men” we proclaim in our greeting cards. We attempt to spread JOY and happiness by rushing about buying gifts guaranteed to make our friends and family joyous and happy (or so the sales clerk tells us!). We pack the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Years with one holiday activity after another breathlessly advertising how happy we are and how much we love the holidays! We shop (and shop and shop), we excuse our over-consumption of food and beverage, we scamper about trying to visit with as many friends as possible, we make at least three trips to Wal Mart for more Christmas lights, we stand in long lines at the Post Office, we force the whole family (including the dogs and cats) to wear sweaters in October as we all sweat through our Christmas card photo session, we are nearly strip searched at the airport as we rush to see our far flung families and basically have a wonderful Christmas experience (huh?). At times I feel like asking someone the first week of January “Um….excuse me…but, did I just experience Christmas or was that a dream in fast forward?”

After reading, researching and “noodling” (my favorite word!) about JOY, I’ve come to a personal conclusion: Because we can’t predict or even effectively define JOY, much of our lives are spent orchestrating that quintessential life where unbeknownst to us, we are working very hard to alleviate the one thing that truly brings us JOY…and that is pain. We reign in our love to avoid heartache; we hold back on our dreams to avoid disappointment, we abandon our sense of child lest we look foolish, we are allowed a socially acceptable time to feel sorrow, and we hold on to our negative thoughts and cynical attitudes to protect ourselves from pain.

When we suffer sorrow or pain and someone comes to offer us their helping hand, that is JOY. When an abandoned animal that is starving and roaming the streets is rescued and given love, a warm bed and daily meals, he feels JOY. When a culture that has known nothing but oppression, torture and hopelessness experiences freedom, that is JOY. For Christians, JOY was experienced at the miraculous birth of Jesus…but the ultimate JOY had to come through a painful, torturous death.

So in this season of celebration…a season of giving, laughter, love, hope, courage and compassion…take an opportunity to assess how each of us can know and experience JOY. No matter what your faith is..Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or even if you are secular and not contemplative about spirituality, we all have a sense of what is right, what is good, what is helpful. Living by these daily principles, along with knowing that we will be offered defining moments of pain or sorrow to overcome, is a path to understanding true JOY.

For me, it is only through faith that I can and will feel peace and JOY in my soul. I have much work to do in this journey of faith but I rejoice in knowing that I’m on the road.
In my quest to define JOY, I asked my nine-year-old son what he thought was the meaning of JOY and he said, “Well, mom, that’s a tough one but here is what I have learned. JOY is Jesus comes first, Others come second, You come third”. Ahhh…I  enJOY knowing my son is on the road too!

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