Ode to Joy

I have always been fascinated by joy. Undoubtedly because it is my name and I have often felt as though joy has been just out of my reach.

I’m not a bubbly person.

I’m not funny.

I don’t light up rooms with my presence.

I’m prone to quiet thought.

In fact, the last two months I have spent my free time reading and discussing various topics of violence against women and the cultural norms that support it with anyone who would speak to me. I can readily use the word empowerment in my host language and yet still have not been able to hold onto the word for bowl and other domestically feminine words.

A few years ago I had decided that I would do a word study on joy throughout the Bible and I am still plodding my way periodically through, one word at a time, trying to find out the secret to having lasting joy. But as I made my way through the Old Testament passages I was actually dismayed and discouraged because, dang it, they were singing and dancing and praising God as if their hearts were light and airy.

That’s not me. I’m not light and airy.

I know that joy and pain are not mutually exclusive, you can experience pure joy and deep pain all at the same time, but how can two such opposite emotional and spiritual states be congruent? What is joy if not delight? What is delight if not dancing in the street with a brilliant smile?

In 2005 I was diagnosed with Dysthymia a type of depressive disorder because I had essentially spent years suppressing my “negative” emotions in a (necessary) attempt to cope with the day in and day out life of a TCK who has returned “home”. Believe it or not, the suppression of negative emotions also serves to suppress the positive emotions. Life becomes a series of monotonous emotional experiences. No low-lows and no high-highs.

No grief = No joy

My Jesus is so good to me and he has opened my eyes to a new kind of joy and this joy is called grace. I use this word, grace, often and I have for years thinking that I knew the fullness of its meaning but this month I actually looked it up in the Hebrew to find its actual definition.

Right there, right there on blueletterbible.com, it states that grace is ‘that which affords us joy’.

“It is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:19).”

Our sufferings, our dark nights of the soul, our pain, is cultivating for us a deep and abiding joy in Christ Jesus alone. I believe that we have a unique opportunity as women of faith who are living cross-culturally because we have willingly subjected ourselves to a constant and consistent stripping of all that we have known and all that we have held as true.

As we are confronted day in and day out with our lack of control, with our lack of capacity and lack of support, we are forced to question our God, we are forced to be mindful of him and the graces he gives to us along the way are excessive and precious and beautiful.

The grace of a package on a lonely day.

The grace of chili cheese Fritos when you’re homesick.

The grace of Skype to meet a new niece.

The grace of a good night’s sleep after a day out in the hot sun.

It is weathering through the sorrows, the grief, the stress, the loneliness that we can confront the reality of our expectations and we can further be met with the reality of who God is, being drawn further and deeper into a real relationship with the trueness of God himself. What a grace it is to be stripped in order that we may truly gain Christ.  Maybe we can “count it all joy” when we are faced with various trials because it is through those trials that we get to see the face of Christ that much clearer.

I’m still hoping that one day I will experience the type of joy and freedom that demands dancing in the streets, it may come to me here, on these cracked and dirty roads, or I may have to wait until those streets are paved gold. Either way, it is only because of Christ and in Christ that true joy can be grasped. I may not be dancing now but I am giddy at the thought.

“Rejoice, in so far as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)

How have you experienced God’s grace in the midst of sorrows?

How do you express and share your joy with others?


  1. Kat Barton December 6, 2016

    Joy, thank you so much for sharing your experience, though it’s not exactly like mine I found great comfort in what you had to say! I think people often hear stories about living this life and it all seems so hard and or accompanied with such negative emotions. What people don’t understand who have not lived this life is that, yes it is hard, but it continues to shape me to be more and more like Him!

    1. Joy Smalley December 7, 2016

      Absolutely Kat, I really believe that there is a sweetness in the stripping and, though very hard, it also holds great blessing and connection to Christ.

  2. Caitlin L December 7, 2016

    Yes!! This was so good and spoke my heart! Thank you!

    1. Joy Smalley December 7, 2016

      Thank you Caitlin! I am blessed to hear that it spoke to your heart!

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