Welcomed to a bountiful table surrounded by shining faces, love was in every savory bite, each word and kindly glance. Dinnertime erupted with gales of laughter, and conversation was enthusiastic and sincere. The hours rolled by with storytelling, counsel, tears released by tender words, celebration, encouragement, faithful, enduring friendship and genuine joy. These things marked the home of my husband’s grandparents. Second-generation immigrants from Italy and first-generation born-again Christians, their expressive family culture turned into joyful passion for the life they received in Christ.
I loved to sit at that table. It was easy, it was uplifting, secure and stable. Life just felt more fun when I was with their family. His Nana's rich, slow cooked sauce joined with his Poppa's jokes from years ago and yesterday made people linger for hours in their small apartment. It seemed everyone wanted to be there, and nobody wanted to leave. The joy was tangible; perhaps even accentuated by evidence that life had not been easy for them. Superficial pleasures and possessions were not handed to them for happiness, yet they created a wealth of delight in everything they said and did. It was in them, it came out of them, it touched everything and everyone around them. They had built a joyful home.
My husband’s grandparents have since passed away, but their memory brightens our thoughts and inspires our family to carry on the same joyful welcome they gave. It is our turn now, and we are learning step by step to set a table like they did. (Though mine boasts less Italian food and a different decorative flair.)
What does it take to have a joyful home? Healthy, uplifting Relationships, adequate financial provision, a clean and functional living space, and nice possessions are significant contributors to our ease and happiness.
But joy is much deeper than all of that, and often independent of it. “Take Joy” is a quote I like from famed children’s author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. “Count it all joy” is the admonition from devoted first century servant of Christ, James. “The fruit of the Spirit is…Joy…” writes another such man, the apostle Paul. Ironically, the lives of the latter two writers took routes of immense hardship, and the former chose a simple but challenging lifestyle.
What is joy? I think of it as a deep wellspring of gratitude and wonder-filled trust at the wisdom, beauty and blessing of God that is present at all times in all places. It is present in pain and pleasure, in poverty and abundance. Joy is a reverent appreciation of life.
Joy is properly defined as “Cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness,” (Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, G5479). Mirriam-Webster defines the modern use of the word as “a. The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”
While it is important to nurture healthy relationships, and certainly worthwhile to create pleasurable spaces and to order our lives wisely so that we can live with a degree of ease and comfort, true joy is a stream that runs deeper beneath all these things.
Joy is a setting by which we interact with everything around us. It starts inside and colors everything outside of us.
Do you know you have the power to create an atmosphere? Some call it a vibe, others call it energy, but I consider an atmosphere even greater than just the mood I am generating. It is not just the candles and soft music, the pleasing appearance and mindful service you try to offer. It begins with the thoughts you think, the perspective with which you choose to see things, how you respond to circumstances, and what your end goal is. You set an atmosphere with your attitude, words, tone and subconscious behavior and it is felt by everyone around you, starting with your household.
We build houses with our habits. Have you noticed that people have patterns of talking about things? Some people turn every conversation into a criticism, a worry, concern, or uncertainty. Others turn conversation into opportunity, celebration, or wonder. While there is an appropriate time for each response, some repetitive patterns are limiting and discouraging. Do you feel like a conversation is incomplete if you haven’t voiced a criticism, irritation or worry? Do you feel uncomfortable with accepting a happy situation without tagging some sorrow or regret onto it? It is helpful to contemplate your patterns because these are the bricks with which you are building the house of your life.
The house you build will be your home as long as you live in it. This is how we set an atmosphere. Joy is a powerful, strong and stable home in which to live. It is not Pollyana-ish denial through positive thinking. It takes honest inventory of reality, but sees opportunity in crisis, chooses victory in trials, and is confident in grace for every need. It faces adversity with courage, laughs at the future, and engages wholeheartedly in the present. Joy searches for the hidden gift in everything. A house built with joy knows anger, pain and grief yet trusts beyond it for a place of hope and healing. Joy has its heart set on the glory of God.
When you have built a home of joy within yourself, it shapes your interactions, expressions and creations.
Our home operates on a general setting of joy, which makes laughter, encouraging words, celebration, and contentment normal for us. We create order, beauty and welcome because there is joy in it.
Joy is not preoccupied with what isn’t, because it is present with what is. It is a discipline of contentment while aiming for growth.
The secret to finding joy is surrendering our lives to the guidance and provision of our Maker. It is relinquishing illusions of control to trust Him completely, powered by the life-giving breath of God within us.
“The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) When this is present, you have discovered the presence of God, here on earth. “You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fulness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11)
With these lenses, life appears rich, full and wonderful. I would dare to say that nothing seems dull while joy lives in you, and the simple things can provoke such pleasure that in the moment you might wonder how you could possibly be unhappy while alive?
Even the most ordinary life awakens with new adventures, exciting tales, and gratitude, because joy doesn’t count on everything appearing fun. It searches through pain, disappointment and loss for opportunity, provision, and grace.
Joy is a personal journey. You can appreciate it in others, but instead of only visiting joy in the homes of your friends, it is much more rewarding to build your own house for it.
Now it’s your turn! How have you cultivated or found joy in your life?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, challenges and triumphs!
“There is nothing I can give you which you have not got. But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . . that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . . And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”
"Letter to a Friend" by Fra Giovanni, 1513