I may have some kind of medical condition.
You see I consider laughing to be a super fun thing to do. And while that’s not alarming on its own, the issue arises when one considers how much laughing I like to do in a given day. Take my word on it; it’s a lot. I really think I could have authored the song from the movie Mary Poppins that goes: “I love to laugh, loud and long and clear. I love to laugh. It’s getting worse every year.” Because I certainly do. And I love being loud too. Just ask my kids; they can testify. I’m sure that’s why God threw me and my husband together. Couple of screwballs. Him lobbing out the slapstick and dry humor and me just a laughing. Loud. God must have known that I really was going to want to laugh a lot in my life so he picked out a quick-witted someone named Jim to get the job done.
But while laughing and being happy is a lot of fun, it really has nothing to do with joy. I never thought much on the virtue of joy until I was blessed, full force to experience it. And it’s interesting that it was during the worst week of my life, the week my mother died of terminal cancer. Now, four years later I only have to focus on that crystal clear event and I wonder at it.
I pulled up her sewing stool and sat beside the bed. Her breathing was so horribly labored, her will to fight so strong that it seemed as if her head was distorted from the effort. She had been lying in that same position, unconscious for a few days so when her eyes began to blink open, I was hit with full force that her time was close at hand. I scooted that much closer to her, so she could see me and I smiled. I smiled through my tears and immense sorrow and with strength that can only come from God I gave her all the encouragement, and peace, and love that was in me to give. And it reminded me of how all my life she had been doing the same thing for me.
I thought how grateful I was to this one person, this one woman who sacrificed all for me, who set me on the path that leads to the Blessed Mother, and as always, to her beloved Son. Such gratitude that it came bursting out as I then, in her last moments of life, told her over and over, “Thank-you. Thank-you…”
Gratitude. It is at the heart of joy. That brief moment when you know you are doing completely the will of God. (Well, I say briefly for me as I usually end up getting sidetracked real fast with my own silly tomfooleries.) That small window that you see through and realize how immensely God has blessed you. How much you don’t deserve it but still He heaps the blessings on, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing” (Luke 6:38).
Joy is freedom. You only have to look to the cross and see His holy joy. Doing the will of God. Union with God- so much so that you feel the pleasure of it and there is a happiness that is beyond explanation. I am drawn back to that moment and I can feel this deep sorrow as I watched her suffer, as I struggled with the seemingly insurmountable pain of saying good-bye to my mommy, my irreplaceable mother. And I held that cross before Jesus and showed it to Him and with deep understanding in that same instant I said yes. With a full heart I said yes. I am in Lord. I unite this cross to you.
Then this wave of gratitude washes over again, the “gratitude grace” and I know that not from any of my own doing can I look at that cross and gratefully accept it. I can do no good thing. It is Jesus Who supplies the grace enough to say yes. To surrender. To trust. To believe. To love.
I feel like joy at its finest is this spinning vortex, increasing speed as grace gets added and I (for once) cooperate with His will. I see then! I understand what is truth; I see my small place in His plan, feeling that I am pleasing Him, being so grateful that He provides all that is necessary. Around and around again, faster and faster until I join and understand the words of the Blessed Mother as she expressed so perfectly what it is like for a human to shout for joy: “My soul does magnify the Lord! And my spirit rejoices in God my savior!” (Luke 1:46)