Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Where do we find joy?
Somedays we may find ourselves just getting by. If anyone asks, we responds that we are okay or fine. There is much more to living than just being fine. We are uniquely made to experience joy. And joy is different from happiness. Happiness, or unhappiness, is rooted in our current situation. Joy is independent of outward circumstances.
The passage from Nehemiah reflects a time in the history of the Hebrew people when some of those who had lived in exile had returned home. They had just heard from the Book of Law, the word of God, explaining what was expected of them. And they realized that they had not lived up to that expectation. So they wept. And yet, Nehemiah tells them not to grieve. He insists that the joy of the Lord is your strength. God is not angry with them. God is rejoicing in the return of the people of God.
We need to cultivate that joy in our own lives. We may find our external circumstances to be dreary or depressing. But there is joy to be found. Joy first that God calls us beloved. We are not orphans, lost and abandoned. We are found and loved. There is the sense from that passage in Nehemiah that at the very essence of God there is joy. And it is this joy that gives us strength. There are moments when I have felt that inexplicable sense that all is good and right. I can never predict when that feeling will come, but I remember that sense of completeness that came from beyond myself. This is joy.
But joy needs to be cultivated. We can be about the things that bring us joy. What are those things for you? I came across a list of potential ideas. The list included looking at photographs of happy memories, of growing a garden, of complimenting a friend, of embracing color and sound, of doing something playful or of creating a gratitude practice. It might be working with your hands or thinking up poetry or working math problems or making music. We need to intentionally find those activities that feed our soul and spirit and open us up to experience the joy of being alive and of being loved. In those instances we feel the joy of our Creator and we know God is near.