Let’s talk about the stark contrast between happiness and joy, real quick. It’s easy to be happy when you are free of the things that create adversity, but when trouble arises and things aren’t going so well, what happens to the “happiness?” You see, it’ll come and go because it is an emotion, a reaction to circumstance. Biblically, we are never promised happiness, but are promised joy in repetition. Throughout the book of John, Jesus reassures the disciples that no one can steal their joy, it is their permanent possession. Just so with us. Joy is not a fleeting moment, it is not based on worldly happenings. But if joy doesn’t come from our circumstances, then where does it come from? Joy comes from our belonging to the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father. That is something which can never be taken. How beautiful is that?
I have been reading about Paul a lot lately and boy, does he have a strong testimony that no one is beyond God’s saving grace and redemption. Not only did Jesus extend grace to this man who had the blood of many on his hands, but He also extended the gift of joy. When Paul became a disciple of Jesus, his life changed drastically. Now an apostle, Paul had been given grace and joy from the King of all kings, how much better could things look for him, right? Not exactly. Paul continued in many, many sufferings while following Christ. What is extraordinary about Paul, though, is how unbelievably durable his joy was when things weren’t going well. 2 Corinthians 12:10 says– “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Persecution. Distress. Huh? How can you have joy in the midst of all of these things? Joy is not dependent. It is what comes from knowing His true love and that He cares for us. So even in the midst of trials, we can look to Him and find pure joy in knowing His plans are higher, He loves us and that He is right there with us. James 1:2-3 says – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Joy is recognizing beauty in and becoming steadfast in affliction, not a reaction to circumstance.
Okay, now for the point of all of that. My heart is so full. It is true that I’m happy where I’m at in South Africa, but more than that, I’m joyful. Since landing on the first of February, I have fallen head over heels in love with this place and these people. We spend most of our days in a township north of Johannesburg, called Olievenhoutbosch. There is a local school that we get to be a part of during the week, along with their bible study and after school programs. I’ve had the pleasure of being with one of the two grade one classes, with Ma’am Sinikiwe and 17 beautiful students. Some days, I find myself thanking God for the tasks I could so easily find menial, like grading papers or photocopying homework sheets. It’s in the quiet of those moments that I’m able to stand still in the knowledge that nothing is too small for showing the love of God. Then comes the chaos; the endless soccer games, dance parties and repetition of the words “again Ma’am” or “look Ma’am.” In those times, exhaustion creeps in, but the smiles are impossible to wipe away. I love knowing my teacher gets to spend her break doing anything other than marking because she has the extra hands. I love knowing she doesn’t have to stay after school to photocopy things. I love the lighthearted competition in each soccer game under the blistering sun. I most definitely love our dance days, where there is not a care in the world for anything but that moment. I love seeing the smiles of these beautiful children. Yes, these things all make me happy, but these things bring me deep, deep joy. I know God has blessed me with so much love to both give and receive.
With that, in giving me such a strong love for these kids and these people, my heart breaks along with theirs. Here it’s easy to see there is racial division, financial contrast, political unrest, a social hierarchy, spiritual worldview differences; adversity in many forms. When I hear the stories of helpless little girls and boys that shatter my heart, I can guarantee I become anything but happy. Anger and sadness set in. I love these people and it’s hard to see them hurt. It forces me to my knees to trust that God loves them so much more than I ever possibly could. If I hurt for them, God hurts for them so much more. Even when I’m praying and begging God for the protection of these kids, I know He is already with them. When my worldly view only sees the hurt and the brokenness, my joy comes from knowing God is bigger than all of it. His love has already overcome. Ultimately I have joy and peace knowing, He loves more. As much as I love them and care for them and ache for them, He. Is. More.
I was reminded of this all so subtly this week when the boys on our team so sweetly gifted us girls roses for Valentine’s Day and bible study was focused on God’s true love. Every rose has so much beauty, and although they have thorns, our appreciation doesn’t fade.
I love my God and I love His people. In the times I’m happy, in the times my heart is in a million pieces on the floor, I count it all joy. I look forward to each and every day spent with these vibrant hearts, regardless of what it entails.
2 John 1:12 -“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
Until next time, friends.
So much love from South Africa. God bless.