I told you that last week Jacob stayed home from school and we watched a little Sesame Street. If you’ve seen it (ever), you’ve probably heard the song…“one of these things is not like the other”. It’s a big hit with the preschool crowd.
It’s funny because I have spent some time thinking about how two things, which actually seem very similar, are “not like the other” the last couple of weeks. It started when my friend Deborah Weitzel came and shared her testimony with our WOW Bible Study group. The timing of the request coincidentally happened to be during the anniversary month of her sons death 9 years ago. Her son, Jack, died just days before his third birthday, very unexpectedly from a virus that attacked his heart. I did not know Deborah at the time but knew lots of people who did and prayed many prayers for their family during that time. (I think that is why I have always felt so close to her…to pray for someone and then meet them later, to me, feels like you don’t really need that whole “get to know you” step). Jack has 3 younger brothers….Owen, Seth and Luke.
Deborah’s message to us that night was honest and so very powerful. She talked about the days after Jack died and the groanings that came from her that she couldn’t even explain. Of course, losing a child is the worst thing any parent can imagine. I’ve always thought God purposely chose having his Son die on a cross - in horrible circumstances - so that no parent who loses a child could ever point their finger at Him and say “you don’t understand.”
Someone asked Deborah if she was mad at God during all that and she was very candid. Her exact quote was “oh yeah…God and I had words.” She described the days after - where she pushed her son Luke in his stroller and praised God because that was all she knew to do (Casting Crowns song “Praise you in the Storm” comes to mind). She went on to tell about the days now where she realizes each day that she longs for heaven and the day her family is all together again.
She shares their story not only to keep Jack’s memory alive, but because she wants to share how God carried and continues to carry her family. I will never forget one day when Deborah told me that before Jack died she would tell anyone that she knew God. She said after he died she KNEW God. It was a totally different understanding and one she couldn’t deny. She said there were very dark days and that when you’ve been someplace that dark you have to decide what you really believe and know to be true.
But something else she shared really struck me and has been running through my mind since hearing it. It was what she said about happiness and joy. She said happiness and joy aren’t the same things (if right now you are saying “duh” then you may not want to continue reading this post, but honestly, I had never thought about how happiness and joy are really two very different things). Deborah shared about how, even though she was very unhappy, she still had a deep, abiding joy in the midst of that horrible situation.
I read where someone said that “we won’t really know joy until we really want God’s will more than our own.” They went on to say…“when it finally becomes more important to be an instrument of God’s peace than it is to be comfortable and have what we want for ourselves, we are on the threshold of joy.
Deborah and her husband have that joy.
So here’s the thing about happiness. It depends on something else…like people and circumstances. If things are going well, then we’re happy. If things aren’t going the way we want the happiness often goes away.
But joy is not happiness. Joy is deeper, it is a constant. It isn’t dependent on our current situation but rather abides deep in our hearts. Even in difficult situations, we can reach down and find joy…tucked deep in our heart.
I read one author who said that happiness is “because of” whereas joy is “in spite of”.
I like that.
Many of us sang as a child the song… “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart….WHERE? Down in my Heart. WHERE? Down in my Heart”…..and then it goes on to say “and I’m so happy, so very happy, I have the love of Jesus in my heart”.
(My apologies if that song is now stuck in your head!)
Psalms 68:3 says “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy AND joyful. So we can be both happy and joyful, but even when we don’t feel very happy, we can still have the joy….where?!?
I hope it is “Down in our hearts to stay.”