In our new series Under the Mask we’re taking a look at all the ways we as followers of Christ can try and put on masks to cover up what is really happening inside. Hopefully this will be an exercise in us growing in being more real with ourselves and letting God into our messes.
We’ll focus on these things in the next five weeks:
The mask of peace while feeling or being distressed.
The mask of joy while feeling or being full of sadness or being empty.
The mask of security while feeling or being overwhelmed by worry.
The mask of love while feeling or being ruled by hate.
The mask of right relationship while feeling or being estranged.
As we talk about joy, as we talk about any of these topics, it is so easy to simply make these into “should do” items. It can be easy to think information is the end all be all. We might connect guilt or obligation to our need for joy. We can assume no one has felt these things or that everyone has only felt these things.
These things can consciously or subconsciously lead to the superficial masks.
The goal of our conversation is to open the door to process what joy is, to see how our faith in God is inseparable from joy, and to take a few more steps in walking in the freedom of joy. Welcome to the process.
Joy can often be assigned as only a feeling or emotion.
It’s likely that you have some emotion attached to your experiences of joy. That’s a good thing. That’s normal.
But these things we’re talking about in this series, we have to talk about them as more than just emotions or feelings.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Inside Out, the main character, a teenager named Riley, has the all-terrible moment of crying in school.
Where does the perspective come from that crying in school is not acceptable?
Where does the perspective come from that some emotions or feelings are not acceptable or should be avoided?
Joy is not a universal Christian experience and it is not confined to just Christians, but there can be a real pressure, as a follower of Jesus, to be a person of joy at all costs, even if that means faking it.
The pressure to feel joy is not an evil thing, but the pressure to feel joy can cause me to put on a mask of joy while not actually having it.
Sometimes “faking it” is actually a really good process of trying until you succeed. Moving your way forward and being okay with mistakes along the way. An internal process.
And sometimes faking it is just...faking it. An external show.
Think about your own response to these questions.
How are you doing today?
How has your week been?
How is work going?
How is your family?
How has your summer been?
How has 2020 been treating you?
Maybe you are willing to answer these questions in conversation from the perspective of what’s really going on for you.
Maybe you feel the trained response rise to the surface. “I’m good.” “I’m fine.”
In the context of a state of being, define “good” and “fine”.
Greg has the best definition of Good and Fine.
Can we just move past my state of being and talk about the weather please?
There is the dictionary definition of joy.
Joy - a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.
The word that is used in the New Testament is Chara - joy, joyful, joyfully, joyously, rejoicing, greatly.
Adjectives don’t always capture things fully. It helps to define joy with a story.
I live in a bit of a constant plague of idealism, not quite perfectionism, but pretty close… Something I am learning quickly is that while idealism is a tool I have been given to make the world a better place, it can also come out of my own sense of insecurity of not being good enough.
I didn’t grow up having the creative side of myself being invested in. I was an athlete and all my time and energy was given to that. I always wanted to be a “create” or “artist,” but I thought that just not who I was created to be. I was always scared to let that side of myself out of the box, because I didn't think I would be good enough. I was frozen by insecurity.
A few years ago I decided to change that. I decided that I needed to start. I invested my time and money into learning and getting gear. I have really enjoyed shooting photos and video, and have even had the opportunity to do some side projects and get paid for them.
It’s not even really about the money, for me joy can often be about being seen in the midst of my insecurity.
When I think of joy outside of simple word definitions, when I think about it being connected to moments in my life, I am amazed how it is connected to two extremes for me.
When Amber was walking down the aisle.
When my girls were born.
When I see people connecting.
When I get to help people succeed.
I feel joy in those things.
But also I reflected on something that was really interesting.
At my grandpa’s funeral when they spoke of his consistency.
When my mom passed away and I had clear perspective of the unfettered relationship with her and had clear perspective of how much she meant to me.
Joy in the highest of highs and in the lowest of lows.
I often feel like I’m searching for joy and unable to find it but then it shows up almost out of the blue, when I’m not really expecting it.
Being on a family vacation standing on the edge of a lake with my wife and kids in the most perfect fall weather. Everything was at peace, I had nothing on my mind except being present with my family and enjoying nature.
Sitting in my living room at Christmas time last year, having a really hard time dealing with my parents’ divorce but so glad to be with my wife and kids and celebrating new rituals with them.
Joy seems to show up in the most unexpected of places.
As good as joy is, it’s not the thing to be aiming for. Perspective is what matters, and joy is a product of perspective.
In Matthew 13, Jesus is building perspective for the crowd surrounding him and for us on how we are to see The Kingdom of God. He shares this parable about a farmer sowing seeds, some falling on good ground and some on bad. He shares a parable about weeds, how sometimes an enemy sneaks in and plants weeds in otherwise healthy gardens. He gives this other parable of the mustard seed, how even the smallest seed can turn into a huge plant.
But then Jesus shares a parable of perspective. Two of them, actually.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Why would someone be excited about selling all they have?
Why would someone be full of joy in getting rid of everything they have that has value?
Because of perspective.
What is joy?
Could it be that it is life with a fuller perspective?
Does someone need to have relationship with Jesus to have perspective and joy? No, but I’d argue that the fullest expression of joy and realization of perspective is found within the relationship Jesus invites us to.
What is the power of perspective?
What is the value of gaining greater perspective?
We can mostly agree that getting better perspective is a good thing. If that is true then why do we face barriers in the process of gaining new or better perspective?
Maybe it’s stubbornness. Or lack of access to information. Or fear. Or apathy. Or any number of barriers.
What are the barriers that people face in finding perspective?
The pressure to feel happiness when we are anything but happy is a painful experience.
We have often confused joy with the pursuit of happiness. I think happiness and joy are not even remotely the same thing. Happiness is such a circumstantial experience while joy is a state found with deeper perspective.
Happiness is momentary, joy is relentless.
Happy is external action, joy is an internal understanding.
In order to be happy we need to change our current experiences. We have to pursue something.
Sometimes our own happiness can come at the cost of another’s. Joy on the other hand only requires recognition of the truths of life.
Happiness often requires ignorance of pain, struggle, despair.
By contrast Joy requires the recognition of such things.
Joy does not hide rejection or injustice.
Joy encapsulates the entirety of the human experience.
Happiness avoids the meaninglessness of life, while joy pushes past the meaninglessness.
The book of Ecclesiastes looks at the pain of human existence and the reality that not only is life something that is fleeting, but also so is enjoyment and happiness.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.
This is how life is referred to in Ecclesiastes. Something so insignificant and momentary, that if we look away for just a second we might miss it. It’s the truth that in the end we will all die.
With that truth being the ground, the author invites us to try and rise above by saying that in the midst of the meaninglessness of life, if you can discover something meaningful, something that brings you satisfaction, you should probably do that thing.
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Do not wait to do what is good tomorrow. Tomorrow is not a given. To experience great harm is to see the goodness around you and be unable to enjoy it.
Ignorance and cynicism are hard to avoid sometimes, yet they rob us of joy.
Joy is not defined by the absence of pain, struggle or betrayal.
Joy sees those things for what they are, it sees the human experience and fully encompasses it and then brings it to the final challenge of Ecclesiastes. To keep God in focus.
Even in life being as a mist, God remains stable.
What are some things that we can perceive of God that open the door to joy in the midst of the meaningless?
We can’t partner with God and let him open the door to joy if we’re trying to fake having joy. Or if we think that negative things like meaninglessness or pain are not acceptable or should be avoided.
If, when we’re facing hardship, we just try really hard to have joy and instead of responding in truth when someone asks how it’s going we just wash over our own experiences.
Again, think about the biblical definition of joy.
Happiness based on spiritual realities.
The awareness of grace and favor.
Not an experience coming from favorable circumstances but a gift from God that is present even in the most unfavorable of circumstances.
Part of the mask of joy pressure might be, like peace and distress, that we think being joyful means sadness is gone. Joy and sadness/pain/etc don’t have to be either/or and are often experienced together. The definition of biblical joy would say that joy is put even more on display in the midst of hardship, pain, suffering or meaninglessness.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
If anyone had barriers to joy it was Jesus. Sure he had things “easy” in some ways. But his life (especially the end) was full of things that I would consider barriers to joy.
Imagine this being your experience.
“Alright you’re going to grow up and not really have a normal childhood, you’re basically going to be a child preacher. And when you get old, you’re not really going to have a lot of fun. No wife. No kids. No dogs. You’re going to live with these 12 guys, and they’re going to be total idiots. But you’re going to lead them and care for them and shepherd them. One of them is even going to betray you. People are going to hate you. You’re going to get accused of all kinds of things, and when you are, I want you to stay quiet. When you’re brought before a man in a place people would normally plead for their life and especially if innocent, proclaim their innocence, I want you to not say a word. You’re going to be sentenced to death by people who’d rather free a murderous criminal. You’re going to die hanging on a cross for a bunch of people who don’t really deserve it.”
Um, I’m sorry, excuse me, can we just back up to that part about not having a childhood? NO DOGS????
These look a lot like barriers. Yet Jesus had joy. And he didn’t fake it.
Jesus’ “joy set before him” was not found in his emotions, his experience, or his feelings. He had perspective that brought joy; we were literally on his mind while he experienced terrible pain and it brought him joy. Grace recognized.
If you’re having a hard time connecting with the “how” of gaining perspective, maybe this prayer will help.
God, give me greater perspective. When life is easy, I don’t want to lose sight of my need for you. Give me greater perspective. When life is hard, I don’t want to drown in momentary pain and suffering. Give me greater perspective. When life is moving so fast and everything seems so unstable, I want to see your constant being. When life has screeched to a halt and I can’t seem to get anywhere, I want to see you calling me onward. When I feel afraid, angry, sad, anxious, uncomfortable, happy, trusting, great, eager… give me greater perspective. No matter what I feel, when I see You, the doorway to joy is wide open. Let me recognize your grace. God give me a greater perspective. Amen
Think about your own definitions of joy. Maybe your definition has been “fine.” Maybe your definition needs a little more reworking. Either way, wherever you’re at in the process, joy is something that shows up over and over in scripture and it’s a theme we can’t get away from
It’s also something as we’ve shared, that’s very easy to feel pressure to fake.
Today and for the rest of this series, we encourage you to wrestle through these things internally and let them come out externally in conversation. In a sense, let your mask down and talk about what you’re really experiencing/feeling/processing/etc. That may be scary for some of you (it is for me) but I believe real, honest process leads us down the path of growth and learning and coming more and more alive.
Just as we shared our own moments of joy, take a moment to think about your own life over the last six months. Your own experiences. Where have you seen true joy take root? Where have your perspectives allowed for real joy to take root? Joy that’s not faked or something you’re trying to force but that is real?
Think of one story or one moment. Let it sit in your mind for a bit. Evaluate it. What was the joy you experienced in that situation? Where did it come from? Did you feel some kind of pressure to experience it? Did you go through some series of magic actions to get it to appear?
How has this season given you opportunities for true joy?
Take It Deeper Questions
What is the most valuable thing you have either lost or found?
Define joy. How and why is it possible to have joy in the midst of pain or cost? Why would someone joyfully do something that is not easy to do?
Why do some people have a greater perspective while enduring things that are “costly” and are able to do them with joy?
How are you challenged, focused and/or encouraged by our conversation on joy?
Bible Reading Plan
2 Corinthians 13