I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Michele Chung's reflection "Discovering the Joy of God."
"I tend to be somewhat melancholy, which means I usually see the glass as half empty rather than half full. When I’m alone, the negative emotions often rise to the surface. This personality trait has been a challenge in my contemplative practices. The more time I spend in solitude and introspection, the easier it is for me to sink into my negativity.
Recently, my exercise app challenged me to laugh 3 times a week, and I became more aware of those moments where things really tickled my heart. When I stopped to pay attention and be mindful during those times of joy, I was surprised to encounter a deep sense of peace and clarity.
I found that it was almost impossible for joy and anxiety to co-exist. Maybe that’s why kids laugh so much more than adults. As we get older, the responsibilities and worries of life creep in, and squeeze out our joy. During those moments of joy and laughter, I forgot about my worries and concerns. My heart felt lighter just because I laughed at a silly joke. Laughter and joy also changed my perspective. I noticed that when I was in distress, laughter will often jolt me out of my downward spiral into negativity. And as I breathe a sigh of relief, the Spirit reminds me that life is not so hopeless and grim after all.
For most of my spiritual life, my image of God was a stern one. God may not be an angry God, but he was definitely serious. The first few years when I started to pray in intercession, I often wept as part of my prayers. I could relate to a suffering Christ, but a Jesus who laughed in joy? He was foreign to me. Nevertheless, as I became more mindful of the joyous events during my day, I became more grateful for the gift of laughter in my life.
I looked up scriptures about joy, and was surprised at how often joy was mentioned. David wrote many psalms about rejoicing and having joy in God’s presence. Apostle Paul encouraged people to rejoice regardless of their circumstances. One theme I see repeatedly was that joy was often connected with God or the presence of God. When Jesus was born, He was the reason that heaven and earth rejoiced. God seemed to be a source of great joy.
If joy is such a major part of who God is, how then do I incorporate rejoicing into my contemplative practices? How does one contemplate the joy of God? The first thing that came to mind was for me to keep a childlike heart. For when I welcomed the simple things in life, and stopped taking myself too seriously, I seemed to laugh a lot more often. When I gave myself more grace, I was more receptive to the divine touches and happy accidents that happened throughout the day.
In God’s presence, there’s fullness of joy. (Ps. 16:11) During my personal worship one night, this verse came to me again. Joy is connected to the presence of God. I started to focus my meditation time simply on who God is. I realized I needed to think differently. Instead of preferring to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus, I needed to also remember our God who is full of joy. In fact, God is One whose presence is filled with joy. Even in the midst of difficult circumstances, God is not surprised nor anxious. His work is finished. Because Jesus has gone through the deep anguish and affliction, we can now share in his joy. Joy is his gift to us.
Although I can still be a tad grey in my attitude, I’m much more intentional in opening my heart to joy. On some days, it means I need to learn to trust in order to focus on joy. At times, I have to protect my childlike heart and not allow cynicism to snuff it out. I’m definitely still a novice at discovering the joy of God. However, little by little, my image of God is changing. Now, I can see Jesus smiling at me in joy."
Michele loves playing with colors and having deep conversations. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and a house full of books. You can find more of her writings at SabbathCafeBlog.com. She also shares her art on Instagram: @imagochele.