Monday over Coffee: Joy, a Kind of Strength

Need Some Words of Encouragement?

Joy, a Kind of Strength

Dr. Rev. Kay Towns is a friend. I coached her son, Davis, in little league. Kay is a licensed professional counselor and a Methodist minister who counsels patients struggling with grief, anxiety, and depression. In a conversation with her recently, she said something so profound that I felt what you feel when you hear something so obvious and wise you can’t believe you missed it before. Kay said: “Joy is a kind of strength.” 

I’ve always thought of strength as something you have to earn. You work out to gain muscle. You study hard to gain intellectual firepower. However, a very real accrual of psychological strength — the kind we need to contend with the friction of each day — can be extracted from the joyful episodes or even brief moments of joy we experience. Joy, even when it seems fleeting, is really a high octane fuel that delivers something more durable — spiritual resiliency. Where there is joy, strength is available. 

There’s an old Bob Newhart Show episode where Bob and his old college chum, Cliff Murdock (aka, the Peeper), return to their old school for a football game. They’re excited to get a bite to eat at one of their old campus haunts before the game, a bustling bar and restaurant which served cold beer and delicious sandwiches when they attended the university long ago. But when they arrive, they see the place has now become a dark, dingy, and depressing place. Trying to make the best of it, Bob, remembering the hardy old menu from his college days, orders a loaded pastrami sandwich with a large plate of fries. The surly man behind the bar responds, “Sounds great. Where’re you gonna get it?”

On one hand, we could say the same thing about joy. Even if we believe it can transmit strength, when we’re stuck in a dark and sometimes depressing season, with the menu of where we can go and what we can do severely curtailed, it’s a fair rejoinder to say, “Joy — sounds great. Where you gonna get it?”

As William James writes in The Varieties of Religious Experience, “Some are incapable of imagining the invisible.” James goes on to recognize that, in some of us, faith is natural. For others of us, our temperament is such that doubts weigh heavily if not decisively, making faith difficult. I think the same is true for joy. 

Some of us are temperamentally inclined to receive and feel joy more than others. If you are one of these folks who are naturally joyful, thank God for your wiring. Stay optimistic in your bearing. Embrace your moments of joy as they come along. Consider how fortitude gathers inside you when you receive these boosts; how they enable you to keep chugging along; how you’re able to deflect away those things that dispirit others. Encourage the rest of us with your secret power. Remind us gently and share with us sensitively those things that light you up, especially if you think they might spark us as well.

For those of us who are less apt to ‘jump for joy’ about joy, consider how to become more self-aware of the moments you experience a sense of uplift, even if it’s mild. It might be a song that drives your mood upwards, a book or show that picks you up, the taste of an exceptional cup of coffee in the morning, a cold glass of water after a good workout, a word of praise your child receives from a teacher or a coach, or something as simple as how the sunlight casts a shadow on the ground so sharply. Get inside the moment and sit with it a second. Even if you process it without any extraordinary thrill, breathe in deeply, inhaling the degree of joy that’s there like oxygen. Then let it metabolize as strength inside you, trusting it can deliver the recharge you need, moving the needle from ‘E’ toward ‘F,’ and storing up a measure of resiliency in your soul. 

Too often, we look up into a beautiful sky, share a good meal with family, or experience a sense of personal wonder, feel a bit of satisfaction we might vaguely think of as pleasure, possibly give a nod to God, and behave as if that settled the matter. It doesn’t. God is putting something on offer to us we need now more than ever. Extract strength from joy. As far as I can tell, it’s free.

God — 
 
May I attend the episodic joy which descends upon me. May it be converted into strength inside me so that I may bless You right back in some measure.
 
Amen.

—Greg Funderburk 


Subscribe to the SMBC Blog