“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” That’s how the song goes, anyway. Lemonade, the old fishing pole, picnics, the beach, or maybe rocking on the porch – it all fits into our summer fantasies. If you watch any television at all, visions of slow-paced summer living are hard to miss. Where is that barbecue grill, anyway?
Part of our American birthright is the right to pursue happiness. But ask any American to define happiness, and the answer is often vague: more money would help, better health, stronger and more attractive bodies, a nicer house, a better job. The list is endless.
Despite our inability to define happiness with any precision, we kill ourselves in its pursuit. Convinced by the world that we must have Brand X to be happy, we work overtime for more money to be able to buy what we think we need – but then there is precious little time or energy left to enjoy Brand X. I don’t know how long it will take us until we finally realize that the pursuit of happiness will never produce happiness. It only gives us the never-ending pursuit of the unattainable.
Joy is the birthright of the Orthodox. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, but joy is deep and everlasting. Jesus said: I have said these things that My joy may be in you, that that your joy may be complete (John 15:11)
But – you might ask – how can I have joy when I am sick, poor, unattractive, alone, hassled, tired, overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, and so far from attaining any lasting measure of happiness?
The answer is not easy for us to hear.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are they that hunger and thirst… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted… Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you… Rejoice and be exceedingly glad (Matthew 5:3-12).
The Lord once again sets the world on its head. Joy does not come from the pursuit of happiness or the good life. It comes from the pursuit of holiness, which is the pursuit of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our joy comes because we obtain a mystery, a great treasure that neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor life, nor death can take from us. And the world, the flesh, and the devil will most certainly try to take it away. Guaranteed.
How powerful is this joy? Let us lay aside every weight and sin that so easily besets us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, Who for the sake of the joy set before Him endured the cross… (Hebrews 12:1-2).
It was joy that carried Jesus through such agony. It was joy that propelled the disciples out into a world that would hate and persecute them. It was joy that caused the martyrs to face death singing, and rejoicing, and loving, and hugging one other until it brought their pagan onlookers to amazement and admiration. This was no mere emotion of fleeting happiness. It was joy, full and complete.
Do a word search and Bible study on the word “joy” and you will be amazed at what you’ll find. How can this joy be ours? It is a gift of the Spirit, but it requires our effort. Seek first the Kingdom of God… Go, and sell all that you have… Strive to enter the narrow gate… Keep My commandments... In other words, pursue holiness and not happiness. Then we will obtain a great pearl, a heavenly treasure that neither thieves, nor rust, nor moth can consume. We will obtain rest, peace, and JOY!