To what degree do you agree with the statement “I often feel a great sense of joy”? This is one of the assessment items found in the GPS Spiritual Inventory©, which measures our current level of spiritual health.
As I go through a person’s results for their GPS I look to their response to this statement about joy to get an overall picture of how deeply they are experiencing an attachment with God, one of the three primary factors of spiritual health. In a sense, all of the other statements about your relationships with God, self, and others, don’t mean much if you are not regularly feeling joy.
Love is the number one measure of spiritual health coming right out of the mouth of Jesus, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” But next to that it is joy, as Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” He also wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” Always?? James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet various trials.” Even when life is challenging??
As I write this, half of my friends are rejoicing at the election results and half are feeling a variety of other things (anger, worry, despair, defeat, sadness). Almost all my friends are devout Christians, so why should there be such a difference?
Let me suggest that to whom we attach our lives makes the biggest difference in how we feel moment to moment. If we highly attach our lives to political candidates, then our joy comes and goes with their success and failure. Attachment theorists tell us that our attachment relationships can be a great source of comfort and even joy. The comfort and joy come out of the security we feel with that person. The more deeply we feel this person will consistently love us and show their acceptance of us, the greater sense of security we feel. And that security is essential for experiencing joy. Our relationship (or sense of relationship) to political figures is tenuous at best and very one-sided. We can have very deep feelings about them, but the feeling is not really mutual–they don’t know us.
Joy is knowing that we irrevocably belong to one to whom we have attached our lives. The feeling of people in love, for instance, is not so much the feelings we have for another person but that those feelings have been met and reciprocated–it is a mutual feeling of loving and being loved back. It is that feeling that we are loved and accepted no matter what. The Psalmist wrote, “In your presence, there is fulness of joy…” (Psalm 116:11) Just like a child with a secure attachment to his mother feels joy when his mother is near, so we feel joy when the Lord is near. Joy comes from our secure attachments when those people show us they love us and accept us irrevocably. When I hold my children close, they make a kind of satisfying sigh. They feel deeply secure, loved, and accepted by me. They crave it. It’s a beautiful thing and an awesome responsibility to know that I have that amount of power in my children’s well-being.
But when the presence of the one to whom we have attached our well-being leaves or rejects us we feel a loss of joy. This happens when a loved one dies or in a loss of relationship like a divorce. It happens when presidents leave the office and especially when they lose reelections. It happens when a pastor leaves or a best friend withdraws from us. There is a sense of loss…a loss of joy to the degree we have attached our lives to them.
We have been wired for attachment, there is no way to escape it. We have a fundamental need to belong and this sense of belonging is the source of our joy and the loss of that belonging can lead us to despair or emotional hardness.
So how can we have joy amid the loss of an attachment figure?
Jesus was preparing his beloved disciples for his death and eventually his earthly departure. He said, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” He is speaking of his resurrection, yes, but I think he is also and ultimately speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the very presence and power of God. The Holy Spirit, the very spirit within Jesus, would enable Jesus to always be with them as he promised. This presence would give the disciples everything they need to enact their mission of spreading the Gospel around the world and even in the face of opposition, torture, and death.
The Holy Spirit means that we are always in God’s presence. In fact, for those who believe, there is a promise that the Holy Spirit dwells within us (Romans 8:11). God’s very presence lives in the deepest part of our being. And this means that we are irrevocably attached to an ever-present and always loving attachment figure in God, which means that the source of our joy never leaves no matter what happens in our lives or the world. Our spirits sigh deeply with comfort and joy when we are awakened to God embracing us with love and acceptance.
Paul writes a soaring and deeply comforting passage about the security of our belonging-ness to God in Romans 8:37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We may lose a sense of joy, but the source of our joy never leaves us. All we need to do is remember it and realize it.
The question I want you to consider on this day is: To whom have you attached your sense of joy? The answer to this question will have the greatest bearing on your emotional life.
With God, there is always joy. You always belong. You are always loved. You are deeply accepted by God. God will never leave you.
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! Not because one man was elected over another, but because your deepest and most secure attachment is with God.
If you are experiencing a lack of joy, then schedule a spiritual health coaching session and let’s talk about it. Just reply to this email.