Searching For Joy When You Thought You’d Found it, Part 4
The lights are of a yellow hue; the paint on the walls probably has a name on it that indicates that it’s for prison walls. The noise of the cells being opened and closed is a noise not easily forgotten. The guard’s station is filled with monitors that cover every square inch of the building. Inmates are constantly shouting out obscenities. Each inmate has their own bunk with a thin mattress, a blanket and a pillow. Their stark white socks and their orange jump suits can’t be ignored. It was obvious by the clean socks and jump suits, and their clean cells that these prisoners were well taken care of; they were clean, they were healthy and they were fed 3 square meals a day.
However, the evil in a prison is thick enough to wear like a coat. The sadness came in waves, some of them so powerful it took my breath away. Some of the inmates were as young as 15, and in solitary confinement. This was my experience with a tour of a major metro city jail.
Sometimes I close by eyes and envision Paul in prison. Then I think about the inmates in orange jumpsuits. I don’t remember chains on the inmates unless they were transferring. They weren’t getting beat on the regular. Maybe one or two of them walked around with a Bible, but mostly, prisons are Godless places-and I believe Paul’s prison was a perfect example of that. Yet he still found a way to have joy; and I am on a search for how.
As Paul continues his letter to the church, he opens chapter 2 with a simple request (maybe not so simple).
“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love and being of one spirit…. do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility. Consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should not look after your own interest but of the interest of others” Phil 2:1-8
Paul is telling them that it brought him “exceeding happiness” as he watched them continue to grow. I think he understood that these traits he requested separated them from those who did not believe; as what he was asking them to do was outside the scope on human understanding and inclination.
It is interesting to me that something that seemed simple brought joy to Paul– even though he was in prison and getting beaten daily, never really knowing when he would be killed for his faith. Every time we see Paul mentioning “joy” he is always speaking of joy in context of other people. This time is no different.
At the time of this writing, the United States was just hit by two devastating hurricanes. The devastation left behind is hard to understand and my hometown is filled with water in the streets.
(Photo Cred: Florida Times Union)
Other parts of the country had equal devastation. The perfect timing of a camera click sometimes captures human suffering.
Photo Credit CNN.com
Photo Credit Florida Times Union
As I watched pictures on TV for endless hours, my heart was broken (as it continues to be), as the lives of thousands of people are changed forever, because some people lost everything.
I was sad, and in the dark hours of the night when the hurricane hit us, I could not get the pictures of the people who were hit before us out of my mind. I wasn’t afraid, really, of this being my outcome. But my heart was heavy, so heavy. I watched in real time as the storm hit us. It was loud outside, so loud, and any attempt of dealing with the craziness of what was occuring outside my house was fruitless. It was complete chaos.
Even if I dosed off the soft light of my phone woke me up, it was somebody checking on me; some of them in the middle of the storm themselves. Those text messages represented people who were exercising exactly what Paul asked of the church. They were “looking after my interest” in some cases, to their own detriment. After each text, before falling back to sleep, my heart rushed with warmth as I felt incredibly loved–message after message warmed my heart and I was, filled with, um, joy? But the question remained if I would feel joy when everthing was over (it still isn’t over) and it occurred to me how I could experience the joy that Paul described when he asked the church to esteem others better than themselves. The next day the pictures of the rainbow monster of a hurricane were replaced by pictures of people all over the country helping each other, many times to their own detriment and safety.
Photo Cred (Florida Times Union)
Photo Credit Houston Chronicle.
People came and are are coming from all over the country. They are giving of themselves and their resources to help people. They are esteeming others better than themselves. And when it is all over, when they are driving home, I bet they would tell you that they have hearts full of joy. So, in my search for joy, I am closer to understanding it, and that at least this kind of joy has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with other people.
This idea of esteeming others better than ourselves was so important that Paul, who was chained in prison, felt was necessary to tell the church. Not only did he feel it was necessary to tell them he told them that it gave him joy when he saw them growing and demonstrating that growth by their behaviors. I bet sometimes Paul felt like a proud parent when thought about this church; he loved them and they brought him great joy.
Hurricanes are strange. If you are like me and had no damage to your home, it is still difficult to comprehend the kind of power that a storm can have. They leave everybody, regardless of the level of being affected, with some moments of gratitude but at the same time confusion.
Today, my heart is filled with joy, or is exceedingly glad, for the continued support this entire country is bringing both Houston and the entire state of Florida. So, this week instead of searching for joy, I am going to search for a way to help—not necessarily hurricane victims, but anybody that needs my help, doing as Paul admonished “esteeming others better than yourselves”. I believe that will bring joy, and finding what you are searching for is important; but understanding how to keep it is even more important.