What is the difference between joy and happiness?
I am sure that happiness depends on what happens to us and that joy transcends the moment and reaches into eternity. But if that is true then what do you do with those little moments of delight that occur when something happens to us or between us that makes us ache for something that we can’t even describe?
Is it possible that those “happenings” are portals into eternity? Maybe they are like a pin-prick into the fabric of the universe and a little beam of joy leaks into our world.
Several years ago I took my two oldest boys to Deadman Lakes in Colorado. A place I first went to when I was a boy with my father and brother. It was our rite of passage in to manhood. So when Cole and Clint were of age, I took them as well. Cole was 15 and Clint was 12.
The following is a journal entry from that trip in 2001:
I got cold last night so I decided to got to bed a little early. Since my bed is in the cook area under the rain fly, the boys had to leave. They decided to go fishing in the shallows where the fish were spawning. I could hear them laughing and squealing like it was Christmas morning.
They had been gone about 30 minutes when Clint came running over the little rise and yelled, “Hey Dad! I caught a really big one!” I said, “Good job son.”
He ran back over the rise to fish some more.
I lay in my poly-filled sleeping bag with my face to the lake and wept.
“Thank you Lord for my boys.
Thank you for this moment.
Thank you for this place.”
I suppose I prayed that about 20 times like a mantra while the tears puddle around my cheeks in my sleeping bag. It was a very precious moment and one I will cherish the rest of my life.
I wondered why he ran over the rise to tell me he caught a fish. I had seen him catch them yesterday and earlier that day.
I imagined him landing the fish, laughter dancing between brothers as they together got the hook out of the fish’s mouth and put it back in the water. Then Clint, with joy still bubbling out—not wanting to waste any of it—brought me some as I lay in my purple sleeping bag.
Is that the nature of true and pure joy—the giving and the sharing of it? He didn’t come tell me about the fish because he needed my approval. He knows he already has that. He didn’t come tell me the good news because he wanted me to help him do something or to get anything from me. He came and told me the good news because joy had filled him up and he wanted to share it.
That brings me to another question: Can one give joy or must it be shared? I suspect that true joy that anyone else experiences is joy overflowed. Clint didn’t’ give me joy. He shared his joy. And in the sharing —I was filled. But as I was filled—none of his joy diminished.
But where did Clint’s joy come from? Did his joy come from the act of catching a big trout? Can true and pure joy come from an accomplishment? I don’t think so. I think it is nurtured in relationship. No relationship—no joy.
If my premise is true, that joy is never really given, but shared—then where did his come from? Who gave or shared joy with Clint?
As I have thought about this journal entry written at 12,000 feet above sea-level so many years ago, I have wondered if somehow joy is tied to sorrow. Perhaps it is accentuated by sadness. Or is it the antithesis of sadness and grief? Towards the end of his life Jesus was comforting his disciples about his soon-coming death and said that their sorrow would be turned into joy.
Maybe when we are acutely aware of what sin has done to this world and the utter ruin that seems to dominate the headlines, it could be, if we let it, a reminder of the joy that is promised us in the coming life—a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Jack Johnson has a line in a song that says,
And there were so many fewer questions
When stars were still just the holes to heaven
Maybe when Clint ran over the little rise and told me about the fish he caught he really just poked a hole into heaven.