There is a quiet truth tumbling around in my soul. I have been aware of the tumbling for awhile but have attempted to ignore rather than acknowledge this truth. The time has come, though, to say it out loud...joy does not equal happiness in my life.
For so long I have thought those two words were synonymous. In the last few years I have come to see them as vastly different. I have the ability to be joyful while simultaneously unhappy...deeply unhappy. How does this work? It's convoluted.
I love to laugh. I am open to laughter and sometimes laugh at things other people can't find the humor in. I try not be obnoxious but it's there. I tend to smile with my whole being. It comes from deep inside. I feel the change in my soul. In my life, joy comes from my soul. I believe this joy comes from knowing the love and peace of God. That does not mean that I am happy.
For me, happiness is a state of mind. I can choose to be happy, I can choose to be a grumpy butt, I can choose to just be numb. Lately I have lived in the state of numb. I smile and laugh but the joy, the happiness is only surface deep. There isn't anything substantial behind it. I still have the joy of knowing God, but there isn't much else in the way of happiness.
One of the places where I have found much joy AND happiness has been on Mission Trips. As the days flew by and the Oklahoma trip approached, I found myself eagerly waiting those moments where we would laugh uncontrollably, where the joy of serving God and the happiness of the moments would come together creating a peace inside my soul that I have been seeking for a long time.
The trip started out with laughter. I loved being in the airport with 28 teenagers sprawled out over the floor, laughing and having fun together...and talking "The Bachelor". We laughed well the first couple of days and then something happened and laughter kind of died away. The trip became serious. Yes, laughter was still there, the joy in serving was still there but there was a solemnity settling over the entire group. I had joy in what I was doing but I was not happy.
Friday morning arrived and I found that my happy was nowhere to be found. After the fourth "get out of bed now" call to the young women in my care and with that feeling of tired almost-at-the-breaking point frustration beginning to overwhelm me, I turned to another adult and said "They are yours, I just can't do this today." I walked down the stairs, down the hall to breakfast and prayed hard, "God, I need laughter today. I need soul-filling conversations. I need this week to end on a good note."
I love it when God answers prayer quickly. Within a couple of hours I found myself on a job site with Yo Momma and 5 young women who were having a blast together. By the end of the day I was driving a truck down the road with the 5 young women laughing so hard I almost had to pull over. There had been some intense and soul-filling conversations during the day. There was love and laughter flowing and in that moment, in that state happiness and joy were synonymous.
Later that day the happiness had abated and in the weeks since I've returned that state of just moving through life, a little numb, not overly happy but always knowing a sense of joy deep inside my soul. Even in the intense moments of grief these last few weeks, an uncontainable peaceful joy still resides just below that grief.
I wish we had a society where people really truly understood the difference between happiness and joy. I wish the Christian community understood the difference between the two. I wish we could get beyond the black and white and see the messy, grey area of humanity and really understand and accept when someone says, I am not happy, but I am joyful and it's okay.