I taught myself to play guitar in 9th grade so that I could play at the 12:30PM folk mass at my home parish in Tulsa, OK. It was the fourth worship service of the day. Often I served as an acolyte at one or two of the previous services before playing guitar and singing at the folk mass.
One of the first songs I learned to play was quite simple. It only had three chords. The 8 words of the chorus of the song, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” were taken from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah (Neh. 8:10). The melody is nothing special, but I find the words difficult to forget. How is it that I find joy in the Lord? Where and when do I find this? If I don’t find it or feel it, is something wrong with me? These are but a few of the questions that arise whenever this verse comes to mind. I am sure that the words are true, but I often wish that I could find that joy more often than I do.
Holy Scripture exhorts us in numerous places to find joy in our relationship with God and with one another. Saint Paul, for example, exhorts the Christians living in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He even goes on to say that we should be thankful in all circumstances. What does he really mean by that? How can we be joyful and thankful to God for everything that happens?
St. Paul provides a hint. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always…. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4: 4-5). To experience joy, in other words, we have to let go. Joy is perfect freedom from worry and anxiety and at the same time thanksgiving and gratitude for what God already has given us. To find joy we have to learn to be thankful for what we have, not for what we don’t have. This flies in the face of our consumer culture in which advertisers continually remind us of what we don’t have and what we have to have to be happy. True joy comes from letting go of worry and learning to be happy with what we have. This takes practice. That is why we learn to do this only as we grow and mature in the Christian faith.
Relax, count your blessings, be thankful to God for what you have and you will find that the joy of the Lord is your strength.