I have been thinking again these days about the notion of joy. We all want the gift of joy, don’t we? And it sometimes seems like a gift, not something we can conjure up. And so I have been asking myself: Well, what then is the source of our joy? What must I do to live joyously? And why does joy seem elusive to so many? On the other hand, why does joy have such power to make our lives better, to make the lives of others better, to make organizations vibrant and healthy?
I am in the midst of enormous change in my life, a shifting of life’s gears big-time. I have just stepped out of a professional role that defined my identity for so many years, a role that defined my time and my choices, but a role that was the source of great joy. Sharon and I also stepped out of a community of people we love, and though we are fully aware this is natural and even good, we seem in exile from our previous sources of joy. All of that has caused me to think again about how to find joy.
I am fond of quoting the great poet Jeremiah on joy. I have written and spoken before on one of his beautiful poems about joy. Even out of the painful circumstances of exile for the poet and his people, Jeremiah extends to them an exuberant invitation to a life defined by joy.
Listen to this great poem again:
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
There is so much here that is practical and concrete. This is both personal joy and the joy of community. People are dancing in the streets. They are enjoying their food and wine and conversation. This is a life perceived as plentiful, overflowing, blossoming, flourishing. This is harvest time. It surely knows mourning and sorrow, but it is not defined by them. It recognizes the pain of exile, the sorrow and the loss, but it is nourished by goodness, perhaps deeper than ever.
And here is the deal: The source of joy is the “goodness of the Lord,” says the poet. The bedrock of life is the gift of the goodness of the Lord. This is what makes us radiant. This is our starting point for all of life. It is the presupposition of life, and that makes us joyous.
So, look around and you will find the goodness of the Lord, says the poet. It is there. This is God’s promise. God will make all things right and good, flourishing and new. This is our hope. This allows us to be radiant, to be joyous.
To be radiant over the goodness of the Lord—that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to participate in God’s powerful promise to turn “mourning into joy,” to bring comfort into the lives of others, to bring gladness instead of sorrow, into my life, into the life of my family, the life of organizations I serve, the life of the community. And then, when I discover that deep joy, I want to “gleam it around,” as the black writer Zora Neal Hurston says, I want to “show the world our shine.”