Anastasia Arvin-DiBlasio | 19
“Joy” is a very little word. It’s only three letters, and in our usual 12-point font, takes up less space than a human fingernail. But just think about how big a feeling it truly is. And True Joy, the kind from Christ – Joy with a capital J – is even bigger, and almost too big to fit into words. Naturally, however, if we were just going to leave it at that, there would be no article left to read. And considering I really want to talk about how Joy can be achieved in relation to Jesus, some sort of definition is necessary. Although words fall utterly short, there are some examples of Joy that I think manage to express at least a fraction of the right idea. Joy is something so big that it spills out of you any way it can, potentially including but not limited to: jumping up and down, sitting silently in perfect peace, singing, or being utterly contented.
I remember very clearly a time when I felt Joy. I was on a run, and just heading up the hill that was the last leg of my route. It had been a great run so far, and although I was tired and sweaty, I had a huge smile on my face. I was happy already, but suddenly, Joy, true Joy, hit me in the chest so hard I could physically feel it. It was like being hit with an invisible two-by-four, except instead of hurting it exploded into a shower of gold inside me. It made my smile wider and my legs pump even faster. It wasn’t simply a runner’s high or an adrenaline rush. I knew it was a point in my life especially touched by my all-loving and all-powerful God. Joy is so much more than the accomplishment you feel when you get an A on an exam, or the pleasure you feel when spending time with a significant other. The Joy Jesus provides is so much bigger than any of those earthly emotions. It is literally out of this world.
Now that we at least have an idea of what Joy is, let’s talk about how we earthly mortals can achieve it. First and foremost, let me just say this: Jesus wants us to be Joyful. There is no three-headed Heavenly Hound guarding the gates to the Joy Distribution Center. Jesus wants nothing more than for us all to be running around jumping for Joy, honest. That’s exactly what life would be like if the Original Sin hadn’t been committed in the Garden. (God said, “You must not eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 3:3), and what did we do? Ate fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, natch.) Because of that, sin, and therefore barriers to Joy, exist. Things like sadness and anger and helplessness do occur, and sometimes God even uses those emotions to bring us closer to Him. Nevertheless, we can still strive to reach Joy, and God has provided us with the means to experience it.
The thing that stands in our way is Satan and all the sin he throws at us. Christian life can be considered a funnel. At the uppermost, wide end of the funnel are all the choices and all the opportunities there are in the world. Becoming a FedEx pilot, choosing which new cell phone to buy, dog versus cat; it’s all up there. As the funnel narrows, however, so do the number of choices, until we get down to the very bottom, where the funnel is narrowest. Those are the choices of a godly life. It may seem kind of backwards to want to “swim away” from all the great opportunities at the top of the funnel, but the truth is, a lot of those tantalizing choices are just what Satan wants us to pick. They look nice and ripe and inviting (kind of like an apple), but in fact the only place they lead to is rotten and infested with worms. Despite seeming more constricting, what happens when you go through the funnel is infinitely more rewarding.
Life as a funnel is only part of the picture. It’s actually more of an hourglass, but with a much bigger base. When you pass through the funnel into the bottom part of the hourglass, you pass into Joy. And Joy is a million times bigger than the top of the earthly funnel. I want my friends and family to be so full of Joy that they’re in serious danger of exploding, metaphorically of course. But that can only happen if some of the options and possibilities at the top of the funnel are left and forgotten.
Let’s face it: some of the possibilities that God would rather we turn away from are pretty easy. Colossians 3 even gives us a whole list, starting with “sexual immortality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colosians 3:5). This is pretty straightforward stuff that even our society has decided isn’t so great. We can even go to jail when stuff like “evil desire” turns into crimes like robbery or murder. But Jesus isn’t finished yet. We also need to abstain from “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (Colosians 3:8). Slander and wrath, okay. But now we can’t indulge in “obscene talk?” We can’t even get angry? What does “obscene talk” even mean?
At first glance, it may seem like it means swearing, and, granted, God probably doesn’t want us dropping the F-bomb every other word just to make a point that could have been made just as well without it. More importantly, however, this particular word could also be closely related to “vulgarity,” which would entail lewd humor and other things of that nature, as well as being coarse or crude. What’s this about never getting angry? Whenever my dad chastises me for not controlling my temper, I am always quick to remind him that Jesus wasn’t exactly the picture of cheerful contentment as he drove the merchants from the Temple. “Wrath” is a bit different from good old-fashioned anger and frustration. It has a specific definition of vengeance, which most definitely isn’t a productive or godly emotion. While these parameters may seem to make more sense than at first, they’re still pretty demanding.
The desire to act according to God’s will may at times seem far off. It may even seem impossible to acquire in the first place. I mean, seriously, look at all those rules! Colossians proves just as helpful in this sphere as it did in the previous one. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colosians 15-17). All things hold together. Everything makes sense, everything is whole, everything is right, everything is as it should be when Jesus is around. The faith that this is true fuels the desire to walk in God’s way. Faith is the key, and once it has been put into the lock and twisted, God is standing there, arms open wide, to meet you and help you make the decisions that will result in a godly life. Because He thinks you’re pretty darn special.
Is there any way we could possibly hope to live up to the standards God has set before us? The answer, if you want to know the truth, is no. We can’t. God knows that no matter how hard we try to swim down to the bottom of the funnel, there will be times when we can’t resist temptation and bob back up to the top. There are other things that might throw us off track that aren’t mentioned in Colossians. Like maybe we take a job with a great salary, but it’s in an environment we just know isn’t good for our spiritual growth. Or maybe we don’t say hi or include the new kid as often as we know we should. And you know what? God knows we’re not perfect, and that we’re going to fail at some point along our journey as Christians. But He will forgive us, every single time, and He never keeps score.
In all honesty, He doesn’t keep track of all the good stuff we do either. Even if we help every single little old lady across the street and play catch with our annoying little brother every time he asks, all those good deeds don’t get cashed in for ladder rungs so we can climb into God’s good graces. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). The idea isn’t that we follow God’s teachings in order to earn His love; we already have it, and we know because He “gave His one and only son” to die for us on the cross (John 3:16). The idea is that we love God so much that we try to emulate Him. Good deeds don’t save us, but God’s love does, and knowing that He loves us that much is what makes us want to follow Him and be more like Him.
Colossians (man this is one helpful book!) gives us some tips on how to do that more effectively. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones . . . compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and . . . forgiving each other . . . and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colosians 3:12-14). First of all, we are given instructions as to the type of armor God has prepared for us in order to achieve our goal. Or, if we’re sticking with our swimming-in-a-funnel metaphor, what type of SCUBA gear. Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love all make it easier to turn away from options at the top of the funnel and swim towards Joy. They “decrease our buoyancy,” let’s say. Still, they’re not the things that will save us, but things we do because we know we’ve already been saved. Second, but maybe not as obvious, is that we are called “God’s chosen ones.” Ones, plural. There are more of us out there! There are other people going through the exact same thing we are, and as Christians, we are called to help and receive help from one another. Not only do we have God and Jesus looking out for us, but we have other Christian brothers and sisters doing the same thing!
Basically, being a Christian is really, really hard. I’m not going to lie and say that once you become a Christian, everything goes your way and you walk around under your own personal little cloud of good luck and magical rainbow ponies or whatever. But being a Christian does give you the opportunity to make your way towards the Joy that comes from an all-powerful, all-loving God, and that’s pretty awesome. Psalm 66 gives us an idea of what Joy feels like. “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise!” How wicked sweet will it be, once we finally get there and spill out into the other side of the hourglass, to go to a huge celebration that lasts literally for eternity? So no matter how hard it gets, just remember what’s waiting for you on the other side, and take some advice from Dori the fish: just keep swimming.
Anastasia Arvin-DiBlasio, Bowdoin Class of 2019. Undeclared. Manchester VT.
Out of an overflow of the Father’s love for her, “Cubby” loves and is loved by others.