Finding Joy When You Thought You’d Found It, Part 3
There is a lyric in a song that I love: “We are only one phone call from our knees”. I can remember the day happiness was taken from me, and I am not sure that I’ve recovered. I think the hardest part is that it is a lonely sadness. It is difficult to articulate, and when I can, nobody really understands it.
It was a cold day in February of 2015 when my phone rang with a 904 area code. That was a Jacksonville number and everybody that “mattered” was in my phone by name. So, when I saw the call come in, my blood immediately ran cold. In my mind, I knew who it was. I sent the call to voice mail, but the caller did not leave a voicemail. I called the number back and the events of the call are a little vague, even to this day.
John’s sister was always one of my favorite people. I’d not had contact with her since leaving, because leaving him also meant leaving the whole family. That was one of the hardest things about leaving. It was Cheryl on the other end of the phone and I will never forget her words “I called to tell you that John passed away”. I don’t remember much after those words. I just remember an intense sadness took over every part of my body. I was stunned. After hanging up with her, I sent out text messages to those closest to me and I simply typed “John is dead”. The responses were varied and honestly, I don’t remember many of them.
When I think back over the last 18 months, I am able to identify that this was the knock out punch for me in the way of a happy spirit. I’d been in the ring a long time and had taken many punches, it was a matter of time before one was a total knock out, and this was it. Something inside of me broke as I learned the details of his death-alone, estranged from his family, probably of a massive heart attack. The hardest part for me was that he died alone.
I was lost in the memories of the day I vowed to be there in sickness and in health. And suddenly none of the reasons I left mattered. Since that day, I have shed countless tears over him. The happiness that once exuded from my being is gone. And everybody has noticed. It is what has driven me in my search for joy, real joy—and I want to learn the difference between Joy and happiness. It is a genuine, almost desperate attempt.
Because I want to understand this Joy– that people speak of and I want to understand why I don’t seem to have it. So, I went on as search, first for a Bible, and then to somewhere that would help me understand Joy. I landed in the book of Philippians, which happens to be one of my favorite books of the Bible.
Paul began writing the book of Philippians from a Roman prison. It is essentially one giant “Thank You Note” to the church there–for they supported his mission to advance the gospel. It is often called the “book of Joy”, and Paul doesn’t waste much time to use this word, this word I am searching for—Joy.
He greets the church and tells them that he prays for them with Joy. Honestly, I have been stuck on verse 4 for a few weeks now. What does it mean to pray for them with joy? I took one New Testament class in college, none of which included Greek words. But I was desperate to understand what this word meant.
A few weeks ago, something really cool happened for a friend of mine. When she articulated it to me, my heart leapt and I was super happy for her. I wondered if this is what Paul meant when he said that he was praying for them with Joy. The fact of the matter was, I was genuinely happy for my friend, there was no feelings or jealousy or resentment that the same thing had not happened to me. I was genuinely glad for her. But my gladness for her was in that moment and had nothing to do with “gladness” in my heart and soul. I was able to be glad for her while still chained in my own prison of sadness and grief.
This sent me looking for a concordance that would help me understand the word joy in Philippians 1:4. The word, in Greek, can best be translated in English to “exceedingly glad”. That is, exactly what I felt for my friend that day. Glad. I felt glad. Paul was able to pray for the church with gladness because he was extraordinarily happy and proud of them. They were advancing the gospel that he started in their area of the world.
That day I was glad for my friend, like Paul, I still felt the chains of imprisonment. For me those chains exhibited themselves in the way of sadness and grief. While not in a literal prison, I still feel bound by those chains.
I began to think and wondered if “gladness” is situational. Many of us aren’t “glad” when traumatic events happen in our lives, or even when life gets hard. We aren’t glad when chains bind us; and those chains are different for everybody. So, while Paul prayed for them with joy, the joy that I am searching for has to be a different kind of joy.
And now I wonder, am I on to something?