Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Remember My Joy!

Sometimes it is just astonishing how quickly and easily we can slip into a routine when it comes to our spiritual life. Years ago, a family friend used to say, after slipping up in some way, “Oh well – can’t be Mr. Wonderful all the time.”

It’s true. We aren’t going to sustain high levels of spiritual energy for endless periods of time – not until we get to heaven, where all the earthly distractions and limitations and obstacles are gone. We can move so quickly from moments of ecstasy and joy to a sense of plodding through the “obligations” of our prayer life. We get too reliant, sometimes, on having “the feels” so that when we experience those down times, those days when it all feels like rote and routine and duty, those days when the emotions just don’t rush in when we pray or meditate or even go to Mass and receive Holy Communion – when that happens, we let ourselves slide. Maybe it’s just a tiny bit, but we do it. We back off from our participation in the spiritual life in favor of something that brings a spark of fun and feeling.

We are so fortunate that our God, Who loved us into being, loves us so much that He understands this. Certainly it isn’t where He wants us to be, and He always has a path open for us to return.

What I think He would love for us to understand is that our participation in the spiritual life does not rely on our emotions at all. He welcomes our coming to him in the dialogue of prayer no matter how we are feeling – bored, busy, happy, sad, depressed, excited – and He wants us to sit with Him in that conversation just as we are.

I don’t need to be full of excitement to call a friend and say that I need to talk; likewise, I don’t need to be brimming over with either happy or sad emotion to tell Jesus that I really need Him today.

It’s precisely when we are feeling not much of anything, one way or the other, about our prayer life and our ongoing conversation with our Lord, that we need to take the opportunity for those conversations with Jesus. And the act of reminding ourselves of His presence and beginning to tell Him what is on our hearts and minds will not always bring an immediate burst of emotion. But emotion isn’t what our relationship with Him is all about, any more than it’s what any of our other relationships are all about if we are honest with ourselves.

Our relationship with Jesus is built on faith and trust and love and joy, and none of these are emotions. They are, instead, choices – choices that open our hearts and souls to receive God’s grace. And when I pursue my conversation with Jesus throughout my day, regardless of how I “feel” about my spiritual life or anything else in that moment, I do so knowing that He is here with me, loving me, hearing me, wanting me to invite Him into all the parts of my life. My soul is filled with joy when I choose to be open to grace. This joy is a state of being, not an emotion.

Joy is not so much felt as it is known.

Joy is not so much experienced as it is lived.

Joy is what happens when we know the answer to Peter’s question: Lord, to whom shall we go? Joy is all but inevitable if we allow ourselves the time to remember Jesus’ presence with us and to turn to him, and if we remember, with conscious intent, what He has done for us, continues to do for us, wants to do for us.

Psalm 12 offers a beautiful example of the soul caught in gloom and sadness, wondering if God has forgotten, and then remembering in joy the living, loving God in Whom all hope is well placed:

How long, O Lord, will you forget me? How long will you turn your face from me?

How long must I bear grief in my soul, how long must I carry sadness in my heart by day and night?

How long will my enemy be stronger than me?

Turn to me and hear me, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes and save me from the sleep of death.

Or my enemy will say, “I have prevailed against him!” and those who torment me will rejoice at my stumbling.

But I put my hope in Your loving kindness. My heart will rejoice at Your saving power. I shall sing to the Lord, Who has granted good things to me.

It seems to me that it is not possible to avoid joy when we put our hope in God. Joy is poured into us with the grace that God longs to give us. It is, however, possible to bury our joy in the detritus of our quest for “the feels” and in the doldrums of our willingness to give in to routine rather than open ourselves to a fresh experience of the Spirit with every conversation in prayer.

Our quest, then, should take us not down the path of seeking some new and fleeting experience of feeling or emotion; our quest should take us on the path that Jesus walks – the path of hope, mercy, and joy.

Jesus, let me walk with You each day in my quest for Heaven. Show me the Father, Who created all through You, and send me the Spirit Who renews all of Your creation in love. Instill in my heart the fullness of joy and let it shine from me wherever I go. If I seem inclined to stifle the joy that Your presence brings to my life – and how could it not bring joy? – with routines and useless quests for needless things, whisper in my ear, Lord – whisper to me loudly: Remember your joy! I think, Lord, that if I remember my joy, the joy that comes from You, I cannot help but share it.

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