This is a guest post from my amazing wife Andrea Isaacs.
I’m often described as a “happy person.”
I’d like to think it’s because I try to make every interaction with others meaningful and positive, but the explanation could be as simple as having worn braces for four years imposed a wide smile on my face. My whole life, people have harmlessly attributed words like happiness, positive, and energetic to my name, and while I’m probably over sensitive, sometimes I mistake their compliment as a snarky assumption that “Andrea must be happy all the time,” and that I’ve misrepresented myself as someone who is never sad, or never struggles.
Sometimes unhappy people assume happy people ignore life’s problems or are oblivious to pain or stress. I’m the first to admit I lead an incredibly blessed life. I have a fulfilling job, a loving husband, and precious kids, but my story is not free from trials. I have personally experienced the crushing loss of several miscarriages, the sickening realization your house has been robbed (more than once), the suffocating grief of losing my mother-in-law to stage four cancer, and the unexplainable devastation of suicide and mental disorders of family members and friends.
I wonder if my parents knew what they were doing when they named me Andrea “Joy” Isaacs. Does a person make the name or the name make the person? Either way I have been marked with joy since I left the hospital. But are joy and happiness the same thing? I don’t think so. I believe they are distinctly different in a few ways.
1. Happiness comes “happenings”, but joy comes from the Lord
In American culture, we place “happiness” at a high premium, and trying to pin down a quality or an exact cause of happiness can be difficult. Still, Americans work every day to chase fulfillment and even our founding principles use language like, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what happens when your pursuit of happiness conflicts with my American Dream? We can all relate to moments of self-destruction- our own or someone we know- that we’re justified by, “the pursuit of happiness.” Moments when someone walked away from a marriage, because they weren’t happy. Moments where selfish decisions were made, and casualties were abundant. We can also probably list people who chase happiness only to be left wanting; they achieve one goal and the moment of celebration is fleeting. We recognize that their lack of contentment is unjustifiable and astounding to the rest of us who envy what they don’t appreciate. Contentment, genuine contentment, is elusive to so many of us, and I believe that is because contentment and joy are a gift, a blessing from God. Happiness is momentary, and fleeting, and based on our circumstances, but joy, we know, comes from the Lord.
2. Joy is distinctly associated with trials
In the Bible, joy is always laid up against struggles, storms, stress. That seems so counter-intuitive. We are usually convinced that we will be happier if a desire is fulfilled; a goal is reached, a problem is solved, but scripture reminds me that I distinctly experience joy because of the trials and tribulations in my life.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3
Despite the paradox this presents, learning how to embrace the difficult, heartbreaking, stressful, and challenging parts of life produces our character and develops our hearts to appreciate both beauty and ashes, both life and death.
If you were to ask someone who doesn’t believe in God, why the struggle to believe they would likely give a reason associated with “bad things” happening. Ironically, if you ask someone who has a joyful relationship with God how their relationship is so meaningful, they would tell you about the value of times in life when “bad things” happened.
3. My attitude is my greatest witness
In terms of being equipped to influence others, I believe my actions and my attitude speak largely in the way of how others view me. I face the same day-to-day stress of many Americans, working moms, thirty-somethings and so on, but how I handle those situations shows others that there is something different about me. And when the door opens for me to have a conversation, I want to be able to convey, with conviction, that my reactions to life’s intense moments genuinely comes from my ability to choose joy.