Sunday, December 11, 2016

Joy





Most of you reading this blog know that I'm a Mormon, or member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as we call ourselves. (Yes! We really are Christians! Right there in the name of our church.) ;-)

One of the unique things about our Sunday meetings is that we have a "lay ministry," or no professionals at all--everyone in a leadership position is a volunteer. And since we have no professional pastor or minister, everyone who speaks or teaches in our Sunday meetings is also a volunteer! A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak on the topic of joy during our main Sunday meeting. Today happened to be our Christmas program (since many of the people in our congregation are graduate students and won't be here on Christmas, we do it a few weeks early).

So during today's meeting, after the sacrament was blessed and passed, our ward choir (again, all volunteers) sang "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Then an older sister in our congregation gave a beautiful talk on coming to Christ, then the choir sang, "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful." And then I spoke, and then the choir and congregation together sang "Joy to the World" and the meeting ended and we went off to the next couple hours of church with individual classes for children, youth, and adults. (If you want to attend a meeting, come with me if you live locally--yay!!--or you can search for a local congregation using this website).

But anyway--this is the message I prepared and shared today.
********************

Good morning, brothers and sisters. I was asked to speak on joy today. I’d like to begin by giving you a bit of background on our family to contextualize some of my remarks. My husband, Neil, and I have been in school throughout the entirety of the fourteen years we’ve been married. We met at BYU just after he returned from his mission; he was a new freshman and I was a sophomore.  Our daughter Abigail was born at the end of my first year of graduate school; we have added five more children to our family while Neil has been pursuing a Ph.D. During this time, I have also taught concurrently at Purdue to support his studies. It has been a long road with many challenges.  At times, joy has been in short supply. In Psalms, we read that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I have had many nights—and mornings—of weeping, but joy does come.
Elder Oaks teaches us that “joy is more than happiness. Joy is the ultimate sensation of well-being. It comes from being complete and in harmony with our Creator and his eternal laws.”

In my experience, joy is both something for which we must actively work and is the goal of our existence. As we learn in 2 Nephi when reading about the experience of Adam and Eve in the garden, Men—and women--are that they might have joy, but our knowledge of how exquisite this joy is is itself based upon the contrast with misery. This is something we see through Alma the Younger’s experience, when he remarks “there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.”
Elder Richard G. Scott teaches that “I do not minimize how hard some of these events are. They can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining center of everything you do. The Lord’s intent is that each of us finds joy, as [we] obey the commandments, have faith in the Master, and do the things that are necessary to have joy here on earth.”

This, then, begs the question—what do we do to have joy here on earth?

Our l
eaders teach that there are 3 levels of joy—the first is appreciating the simple beauties in life, and is akin to the way children view the world. Elder Oaks remarks, “
When I think of happiness or joy in this life, I begin with some experiences that are simple and basic. I remember a two-year-old immersed in a soft ice cream cone. I think of a child loving a puppy or a kitten. The more mature can also experience joy in what is simple and basic—in flowers and other growing things, in a sunrise or sunset or other beauties of nature, in wholesome companionship.”
We can first find joy through appreciating the small but wonderful things in our lives. The second level of joy is actively seeking out ways to experience joyful moments in our lives.
In my own life, I have dealt with the specter of severe and debilitating depression. It has been a real effort for me to find joy in my life, and I have found that it is something that I have had to work very consciously to achieve. What I have learned, more than anything, is that joy does not always come on its own. I cannot sit back and wait for bliss to wash over me. I have to construct my life so that joyful moments are possible, likely, and frequent. Joy takes work. One thing we have done in our family is actually sitting down and making a list every season of the things we want to do together as a family. Doing this allows us to have time together where we actually enjoy being together, giving us the opportunity to feel that fleeting but incandescent joy in those idealized moments that do not come naturally in days that are otherwise packed with laundry, homework, and all the minutiae of daily life.

Additionally, Elder Scott specifically mentions being creative as a way to bring more joy into our lives: “Select something like music, dance, sculpture, or poetry. Being creative will help you enjoy life. It engenders a spirit of gratitude. It develops latent talent, sharpens your capacity to reason, to act, and to find purpose in life. It dispels loneliness and heartache. It gives a renewal, a spark of enthusiasm, and zest for life.”
Elder Oaks teaches: “Another source of happiness and mortal joy is the accomplishment of worthy goals, simple things like physical exercise or more complex goals like the completion of an arduous task.” I couldn’t agree more with this—I am an ardent runner for two reasons. One, in a more temporal sphere, is the feeling of joy and satisfaction I feel when I cross the finish line of a major goal race. Two, running alone is the time when I feel most connected to the Savior. It provides me the time and physical space away from the needs of my family and daily life to pray and listen for hours on end.

This brings me to the third way we find joy in mortality, which is of lasting and eternal significance--the joy that comes from a unification with our Heavenly Father and Savior as we strive to draw closer to them.

At our most recent conference, Elder Nelson taught, “The
joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.
When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy!”
At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who has bourne our griefs and carried our sorrows, who experienced the most bitter pains ever known so that we might in turn experience the most exquisite joy ever known—our redemption from sin, the reunification of body with spirit after resurrection, and our ability to live with God in the eternities. Surely, as the Psalmist wrote, this is a joy of the morning.

The Savior’s peace passeth all understanding. So does the joy which he offers us. Elder Nelson asks, “If we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible? What repenting will then be possible? What weakness will become a strength? What chastening will become a blessing? What disappointments, even tragedies, will turn to our good? And what challenging service to the Lord will we be able to give? Joy is a gift for the faithful  It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ. Every day that you and I choose to live celestial laws, every day that we keep our covenants and help others to do the same, joy will be ours.”

We can find joy in our lives through striving to appreciate the small good things, the beautiful moments, through working to create more of these moments in a myriad of ways, and through striving for a deepened relationship with our Savior and Redeemer. In closing, I would like to share my favorite verses from the Book of Mormon, where the king of the Lamanites asks Aaron how he can draw closer to the Lord, saying:

"What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy."
And upon Aaron’s response that the king should repent and call upon the Lord, the king cries,

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.”

As we, in turn, give away all our sins to know the Lord, as we strive to seek out joy in our daily lives, we can truly come to know him, to experience the peace which passeth understanding, to experience the fullness of joy that cometh in the morning with the Savior, and we will rejoice. May we at Christmastime and all year long strive to more fully appreciate the tremendous gifts which we have been given, and find joy in the journey back to our Father in Heaven. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sources:
Richard G. Scott: Finding Joy in Life (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1996/04/finding-joy-in-life?lang=eng&_r=1)

Dallin H. Oaks: Joy and Mercy (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1991/10/joy-and-mercy?lang=eng&_r=1)

Russell M. Nelson: Joy and Spiritual Survival (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/10/joy-and-spiritual-survival?lang=eng&_r=1)

The Book of Mormon:
     2 Nephi 2: 25: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/2-ne/2.25?lang=eng
     Alma 22: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/alma/22.18?lang=eng




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