Following her lecture, Dr. Madsen took questions and comments from attendants in the room. One person asked what her working definition is of joy. Dr. Madsen’s response was simple and stunning: “My working definition of joy is enjoying the good things God has given us and sharing them with others.” Fascinating. I guess I hadn’t thought about joy as such. I quickly wrote it down. Her words bounced around in my head the remainder of the afternoon and into the evening. Perhaps such a definition is not as thought provoking for you, but as I thought about it more and more I considered it practically. How do we intentionally serve to be joyful? If not explicitly, how do we at least become more aware of our joyfulness, or lack thereof? Have I been a joyful presence for others—within and beyond the church? How does being a practitioner of joy help to cultivate an environment and community of thankfulness and service to our neighbors? Deep down inside, as I pondered her definition, I understood joy as Dr. Madsen defined it; but to understand it and practice it are two different (dare I say, separate) things. To understand something does not automatically mean it has been accepted and taken hold within one’s life. To exercise something—to let it actively function in one’s life—seems like a second step. For instance, we can ‘understand’ faith; but such is different than the act of actually trusting in someone to be or act a specific way.
For me, sharing personal joys with others is, unfortunately, not always the most immediate thought. It is all-too-easy, especially when you’ve had a long day or a bad week, to turn to pessimism—if not flat out despair—instead of joyful acknowledgement of the many good, God-given gifts that fill and color one’s life. In trying to take what I learn and apply it to my life and ministry, I’d like to share with you two recent joys: one personal and the other vocational.
First, as some of you may know: my son has been enrolled in speech therapy for six months now. Weekly, a speech therapist from the school comes out to the parsonage to spend an hour with him—casually working on encouraging him to talk, and teaching my wife and I the skills how to use new words and phrases with him as he becomes more comfortable with his voice and his vocabulary grows. At first, our son was very shy about talking. With time, however, he warmed up to expressing himself through both words and signs. In the last month or so, his communication has taken off like a rocket—sometimes filling our home with more conversation than we find necessary. Nevertheless, he is learning and growing; and watching him take these steps forward in his speech—and in assisting him, thereby learning alongside him—has been a tremendous joy for both my wife and I.
Secondly, as many of you should know: this year is the first I have had both 7th and 8th grade confirmands. As such, I made a decision at the beginning of the school year to split the two classes: 7th graders learning the Bible, and 8th graders learning the Catechism. Having two separate classes has (as I knew it would) meant more work in preparation and more time spent teaching Wednesday evenings. Yet, watching the groups each learn and grow on their own, ask questions exploring ambiguities and answers, form and strengthen relationships with others in their individual class, and begin forming their own personal faith identities has been truly amazing. Teaching is something I have felt called to do for some years now, and I consider it a crucial part of ministry. Education helps us to be more faithful Christians in our speech and service. I find it part of my calling in this place to assist in making these churches safe places to ask tough questions, critically explore Scripture and theology, and overcome our differences in belief to discuss who we believe God is in the person of Jesus Christ and how our faith moves us to love and serve the world around us. Though it can be overwhelming sometimes, teaching my confirmands—delving deep into our faith together—is proving to be a great joy for me.
So tell me, what are some joys--good things God has given you—in your life right now?