We packed away our ornaments, stockings, and wreaths until next year. Both my fireplace mantel and my heart felt a little barer because of it. I don’t even live in a place with terribly cold winters, but after the holidays, spring seems so awfully far away. I find myself complaining more than usual when the days are cold and gloomy. I find that small trials sometimes feel larger, and large trials nearly too heavy to bear. Give me April, Easter, sunshine, blue skies, and trees sprinkled with dogwood blossoms, and I instantly become far more the person and the Catholic that I want to be.
Finding Joy in the Midst of Winter
I’m determined to make this winter different. With a little help from the Danish concept of hygge, plus some tough love to pull me out of my inevitable post-holiday funk, my prayer is for an increase in joy throughout these winter months.
Joy vs. Happiness
One definition of happiness is “a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” That definition ties our happiness directly to our circumstances. Did you receive affirmation at work today? Were your kids well-behaved? Was the sun shining beautifully after days of rain? All of these things can make us happy, and sure, even help lead us to joy.
But joy itself? That is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), distinguished by the fact that it does not depend on circumstance. It comes from within, ignited and encouraged by God. Its presence is determined by the state of our souls, not the state of our days or our homes or the people in our lives. It is a deeper, more satisfying happiness that can carry us through any trial, if we are brave enough to ask for it.
In moments of suffering, pain, and even death, joy can feel unreachable because happiness feels unreachable. But throughout history, the Saints prove that joy is accessible to us even when we may have every logical reason to feel only sorrow. There are more Saints who exemplify joy than we’ll ever know, but three in particular have taught me that joy is never unreachable if we know to Whom we must look for it.
Joy Does Not Depend on Our Circumstances
Philippians is the go-to book of the Bible when you want to study the gift of joy. St. Paul repeated the words “joy” and “rejoice” fifteen times throughout the four brief chapters of the book. (Note: This number may vary a little based on Bible translations. I counted in my Catholic Journaling Bible).
He rejoiced in the holiness and love shown by the Philippians. He rejoiced in the chance to share the Good News, even when it could have cost him his life. Paul rejoiced in the promise of Heaven. He rejoiced in the opportunity to put the Philippians’ worries for him to rest through his letter. He encouraged them, time and time again, to rejoice too, saying:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:4-7
Sisters, St. Paul was doing all of this rejoicing from a prison cell, in danger of death.
I Can Rejoice in All Moments, Too.
I’ve never been imprisoned or in danger of death because of my Faith, but I sure let a toy-covered house that has gone a few days too many without seeing a vacuum cleaner get to me. I get too caught up in deadlines and emails and the pressure I weigh myself down with to rejoice in the blessing of work that I love. I let a neglected chore, a petty argument, or a Target-aisle tantrum steal the joy I usually find in my vocation as a wife and mother.
Rejoice in the Lord, always. The house will be cleaned eventually. The work will still be there in the morning. I’ll blink and remember how ridiculously grateful I am that my college crush became my husband and that we have a precious little boy as a result. When I relinquish control and place my anxieties into the open hands of Jesus, St. Paul’s words ring so true, and I find the strength to rejoice too.
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Joy Does Not Depend on Our Past
Something terrible happened to someone I love dearly a few months ago. While the road to healing will be a long one, I’ve been brought to tears because, in the midst of it all, she has still found moments of beautiful, restorative joy.
“Joy does not depend on our past” is the phrase that I hope echoes in the hearts of anyone who believes that what they have done, seen, experienced, or barely survived has the power to steal their chance at joy forever. Pope Saint John Paul II is proof of this to me. He lost both his parents and only sibling by the time he was 19. He had a front-row seat to the horrors of the Holocaust and saw countless friends and neighbors led to their deaths. Under the control of a string of evil dictators, he watched his beloved homeland fall.
That was Karol Wojtyla’s story. Had it been mine, I can’t honestly say I would have ever allowed myself to seek joy again. But thankfully, John Paul II knew better. He knew his joy didn’t depend on the horrors or heartbreak of his past; only on the truth of the Resurrection and the promise of Heaven.
We who are Christians have a further cause for joy: like Jesus, we know that we are loved by God our Father. This love transforms our lives and fills us with joy. It makes us see that Jesus did not come to lay burdens upon us. He came to teach us what it means to be fully happy and fully human. Therefore, we discover joy when we discover truth–the truth about God our Father, the truth about Jesus our Saviour, the truth about the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts. -Pope Saint John Paul II (source)
Joy Does Not Depend on Our Feelings
When you Google “Saint quotes about joy,” the name you’ll see pop up the most frequently is a very familiar one: Saint Teresa of Calcutta. To most people, this probably isn’t surprising. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity! She knew exactly what her vocation and calling was! She was recognized and beloved by millions during her life! The ingredients for joy certainly seem to be there, don’t they?
But, as we know now, Mother Teresa’s spiritual life was not marked by the consolation and encouragement that everyone assumed it was. On the contrary, she endured over fifty years of spiritual darkness. “Love—the word—it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she once wrote to her spiritual director.
And yet, these words are hers as well:
Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen.
To Love is to Choose
Saint Teresa may not have felt God’s presence, but she believed in Him, fiercely, wholeheartedly, and passionately. Her unwavering faith filled her with joy, even in the midst of the sickness and destitution she experienced daily in her ministry, and even in the decades of spiritual loneliness she endured. She fought the doubt that must have plagued her and trusted with all her heart that Jesus died for her, rose for her, and loved her, even when she felt nothingness in the moment.
That heroic faith turned into joy, and that joy inspired (and continues to inspire) the world. But most importantly, that faith made her a Saint.
When it seems most impossible to grasp, be unafraid to ask the Holy Spirit for more, more, and more joy. Especially in these months of winter, let’s pray for an outpouring of joy over the whole Blessed is She community.Finding Joy in the Midst of Winter (and Encouragement from the Saints) #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Lisa Kirk is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She is a wife, mama, and writer in Raleigh, North Carolina. She loves city life, Sunday brunch, and the beauty she uncovers (almost) daily in her vocation. In between snuggling with her toddler and dating her handsome husband, she blogs about family, faith, and feminine style here.