I once broke an old thermometer on the bathroom counter. The broken glass spilled the silvery mercury, which separated and rolled like beads across the tiles. Defining joy feels to me like capturing mercury – it can’t be gathered and contained. Joy is metaphors and images – describing, instead of defining.
Joy is God’s Presence breaking through. I remember once, as a college student studying overseas, sitting alone by the banks of the Sea of Galilee. At night, in the rain -miserable and lonely. I didn’t want to be there. My heart had been broken and I wondered what purpose God had in my pain. “Explain it to me God! Why? Why now? Why me? Why this? Tell me and I’ll do what you say!” I sat there in the dark and rain, hair plastered to my head, and wept… The only sound was the eerie crying of gulls, and the dripping of water-laden branches. And then… it happened… No explanations or instructions; no guidance … but his Presence broke through. The heavy clouds parted enough for a patch of moonlight to hit the water, silver and glinting. And then the sound of someone whistling a soft tune. A little boat glided into the patch of silver, and a lone fisherman picked up his nets and cast them with a shattering of diamonds across the water, and I gasped. Presence, breaking through pain. He was with me, and that was what mattered most. I have plans for you – plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans for a hope and a future. Joy.
Sometimes that Presence-breaking-through is in the simple things – the smell of damp, rich earth as I dig in the garden; the sight of bent green sprouts emerging with new life, the feel of a warm egg from the chickens. Or it’s simply the sound of laughter in our home – the reminder that God gave us three completely unique and individual boy-men to love and raise. Their laughter expands my heart with gratitude. His Presence breaks through with reminders every day that, once we thought we’d never be able to have children, and now this! Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. Joy.
His Presence breaks through the raw catch in breath that comes with fear. Watching planes lift off with the most precious pieces of my heart on board. Will I see them again? Will I know them as I once did? Or… I visit my aunt in her retirement home and, as I enter, paramedics usher a gurney along the path with an elderly gentleman on it, his eyes closed and his face gray. Someday… someday… How will I negotiate the losses? The loneliness? For no reason but love, his Presence breaks through. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your rod and staff they comfort me. Presence. Joy.
Like the silvery beads of mercury rolling and slippery, God’s Presence breaks through, at unlikely times and always because of his love. That is joy. Unlike the giddiness that comes with happy feelings, joy is a peeking into the Promise – the promise that He will never leave me or forsake me in the here and now, and then there is the Great Promise – like the Narnian wardrobe, or pulling back a stage curtain. One day I will see and know His presence with me as I feel the sun on my skin or the wind at my back. And then it won’t be His Presence “breaking through,” because there will be no breaking through anything. Just Presence, and joy complete.
Bonnie Fearer is the Women’s Ministries Pastor at Santa Barbara Community Church. She lives with her family in Santa Barbara, CA.