I have a friend who calls me a workaholic. “You’re addicted to it,” Patricia said once, accusingly, and I was instantly taken aback. That’s not at all the way I experience my life, and I tried for some time to figure out the disparity between what she was seeing and what I feel.
What I finally realized was this: what I do for work gives me joy. I am a writer, and everything that goes into writing—research, reading, thinking, the act of writing itself—is pleasurable to me. Not always easy, but always rewarding. Yes, I do a lot of it. Why shouldn’t one do what brings one joy?
That started me thinking about the whole concept of joy, and how it isn’t taken very seriously in our culture. People talk a great deal about happiness, but joy is something deeper. Happiness is fleeting, dependent on the moment, often attached to something outside of ourselves; joy lives inside, connected to our souls. I am joyful because I love my life’s work; but even more than that, I am joyful because I am a child of God.
Joy may well be one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, but it strikes me that it’s not just a gift—it’s a command. Think for a moment of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. He knew he was soon going to die in agony. He knew that ten of the twelve men sitting with him would die as martyrs. Yet what did he do? He offered us the most profound joy of all, the words of the Eucharist. And what did he say? “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). He says, “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (16:20), and, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (16:22). His final address to his disciples before his passion, death, and resurrection includes a strong message about joy.
It is no accident that the same Jesus who tells us to take up our crosses and follow him also calls us to a deep and abiding joy. And Christian history virtually starts with an announcement of joy, when the Angel Gabriel spoke his first word to Mary: “Rejoice!”
Joy is why martyrs could die looking heavenward. Joy is why St. Paul could exhort Christians to “rejoice always.” Joy is neither illusory nor conditional. “A Christian,” said Pope Francis, “is a man and a woman of joy. The Christian sings with joy, and walks, and carries this joy.”
I think about that and I ask myself, am I carrying joy? what am I showing to the world? My friend Patricia sees me as a workaholic. How do other people see me? Am I reflecting the joy that is my legacy as a follower of Christ? I think about St. Francis of Assisi’s famous reminder that “you may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” Do people see in me the joy of the Gospel? St. Teresa of Avila, perhaps in a moment of exasperation at having seen too little joy on the faces of her fellow Christians, once said, “God save us from gloomy saints!”
But it’s important at the same time to distinguish between joy and happiness; we don't have to go around with false smiles plastered on our faces to be joyful. Our circumstances dictate our levels of happiness. It’s difficult to be happy when in the midst of financial worries, family problems, health concerns. Life isn’t always happy—in fact, a lot of the time, it’s challenging and scary; but it can always and at the same time be joyful. G.K. Chesterton, one of my favorite authors, wrote that “joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”
It’s a secret worth sharing.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
image Lilia Macías for Cathopic