Thursday, July 30, 2009

Learning Joy - Fruit of the Spirit Part 2

The Encarta Dictionary defines joy as "feelings of great happiness or pleasure, especially of an elevated or spiritual kind." The Greek word for joy in Galatians where Paul lists the fruit of the Spirt is chara (khar-ah'), which means cheerfulness, calm delight, great or exceeding gladness. Chara also comes from the word chairo (khah'ee-ro that means to be cheerful or calmly happy. Chairo can be used as a greeting or parting wish: be well, farewell, be glad, rejoice! I wonder if this is where the expression cheery-o originated. Happy, by the way, is defined as, "feeling or showing pleasure, contentment, or joy."

I give these definitions because I have heard in the past that happiness and joy are two different emotions. Happiness is generally thought of as positive feelings arising from some circumstance - like finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. Joy is often considered to be above and beyond circumstance - like realizing that the person twenty feet away on the sidewalk is the person who dropped the bill, but being glad that you were able to return it to them, even if you really could have used an extra twenty bucks. Still our words fail us as the definitions of happiness and joy seem inextricably linked.

If it is hard to define joy, yet you want to learn what joy is you need to hang out with a child for a while. Special needs children don't have a corner on the joy market, but they can demonstrate true joy that rises above their circumstances. We embarked on a camping trip last weekend with a few families with special needs children. One girl in particular was a great example of joy to me. She has cerebral palsy (CP) and depends on a wheelchair, adaptive communication technology, and help from her friends and parents to do just about everything in her day. Because her communication computer doesn't travel well (probably especially in the heat, dust, and smoke of a campsite) we relied on her parents for the most part to communicate with her and understand what she wanted. However, there were two very clear instances when she didn't need help to express her thoughts. One was the suggestion to make s'mores for dessert the first night. Her entire body leapt with excitement and anticipation and Joy at the thought of making and eating a s'more. Her face lit up and her grin spoke volumes. The other was when her dad promised to take her swimming again after lunch. She is able to move her legs through the water and I imagine the freedom from her chair alone must be exhilirating. Again we didn't need any help to interpret the pleasure she would get from swimming with her dad.

When I lose sight of how amazing and beautiful all of life is around me and I begin to complain about some small and temporary inconvenience, I hope the image of this young lady as she anticipated such simple pleasures will come to my mind. We need to remember to find joy. It is there to be found.


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