because sometimes joy is a fight.

It’s an old Sunday-school lesson on joy– maybe you’ve heard it.

I think it goes something like,

Happiness is a changing emotion that is dependent on circumstances; alternatively, joy is both a wellspring and a fruit of the Spirit, a state that is a byproduct of the love of Christ. We are to have joy instead of happiness, so that we may be rooted in it, despite our present condition.

And I think mostly, in the bare bones, this are fine, maybe even good definitions. I often wonder if the feeling, the sensation of joy versus happiness can be described. [Unfortunately, I think I could do this better with different kinds of sadness.] And I have questions about what it means to simply “have joy.” Somehow, to my mind, this is in the same category of oddity as when a photographer instructs you to “be candid.” I’m not really sure it works that way.

And sometimes, joy feels like a fight.

For one reason or another–and some days perhaps even no tangible reason at all–for me, this joy thing doesn’t always feel so natural, so automatic. Sometimes it’s a season or a day, sometimes in the throes of an empathy crisis or just in the spiraling weight of self.

It came into focus towards the end of the first hymn on Sunday, one I hadn’t been really paying attention to, one whose rhythm wasn’t in step with my emotions of the morning.

Suddenly, sharp and clear:

Still lift your standard high,
still march in firm array,
as warriors through the darkness toil,
till dawns the golden day.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing.

As warriors through the darkness toil: Rejoice!

Here and elsewhere in the song, rejoice is both a banner and the battle, both the means and the ends. It is toil, it is marching. It is not always easy and all-of-a-sudden.

It’s a battle cry.

What’s more is the twofold meaning of the word rejoice. The first, that we may know better, is an expression of something that already is, in some way. an outpouring of an emotion we already have.

But the other, old meaning is to bring joy to. In gift, in cultivation, in the fight–to bring joy to places where there seems to be none, even if it is my own core.

Re-joy, if you’ll forgive the terribly crude wordplay.

I’ll admit that it’s still hard to know where to begin. What are my implements in this fight against a settled darkness, against anxiety, against a whirlwind of sorrows?

I’m not entirely sure. For me, right now, I think it might be in returning to those things that gave me joy once before (the stones I stood on firmly), in counting the gifts, in talking it over with people I trust to sit with me when I need to just sit, in realizing that the fight itself is worth it.

And maybe even just asking, asking the One who can rejoice my heart.

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joining, again, with Life: Unmasked. Won’t you read along?

Life: Unmasked