8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
When I was a kid we often had children’s musicals at our church. They were usually in the spring, but one year when I was around 10 or 11 we had one at Christmastime. This was not your typical Nativity pageant, but a musical with original songs and a storyline. This particular year, I had one of the main parts — I was an angel named “Halley Lou.” (Honestly— this is a true story!)
About a week before the performance, I became ill and was hospitalized with pneumonia. Heartbroken, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to do my part. As it got closer, the doctor and nurses agreed that I would be out in time to perform. They even let me leave for a few hours to attend the dress rehearsal, and then I performed that Sunday.
I remember feeling so…happy… so joyful! And then, as I remember, I was confused because I’d once heard someone say that joy and happiness aren’t the same thing and we should really be “longing for joy”. I was unsure of how I should be feeling. When certainly, as a 10 year old, being able to be in the musical that night brought me happiness and joy.
I’ve experienced this many times over the years as a Christian. Confusion surrounding what “true joy” really is.
I recently read (and loved) what Margaret Feinberg has to say about joy:
Scripture reveals joy as a spectrum of emotions, actions, and responses that includes happiness, gladness, cheer, merriment, delighting, dancing, shouting, exulting, rejoicing, laughing, playing, brightening, blessing and being blessed, taking pleasure in and being well pleased. Discovering the fullness of joy means opening ourselves to the wide spectrum of ways God has wired us to experience it. Suddenly, joy isn’t elusive, but every day. It’s slips into our prayers when we say gracias. It tumbles in rumbles of laughter and dances when we lift our voice in praise. It curls on the couch as we embrace moments of deep shalom.
Today, and always, I’m giving you permission to not overthink it. When you’re feeling happy or playful or glad, call it what it is — joy! As we all know, it’s not always easy to find joy. So when you find it — embrace it as the gift that it is.
(You can read the rest of Margaret Feinberg’s essay here.)