by Dr. Will Tickel
“The joy of the Lord is my strength.” – Nehemiah 4:8-10
Could the scripture just as easily have said the happiness of the Lord is my strength?
Seems to me there’s a distinct difference. But allow me to backtrack a bit to describe just how I found myself pondering on what some might, at first glance, dismiss as a question of semantics. After all, joy or happiness seems pretty much the same.
Here’s how it all got started. A man approached me after the sermon a couple of Sundays back and asked offhandedly: “Well, is the Lord taking care of you? You’re happy? And things are going your way?”
I hesitated a bit and, for some reason, did not simply offer a casual reply. Instead, I answered each question. “Yes, the Lord is taking care of me. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. But, no, I’m not particularly happy. And most things do not appear to be going my way at the present.”
My response was more than my acquaintance had wanted, for sure. And we talked it out for a bit and all ended well, but the thought process had started for me.
Once a week I have the privilege of serving in an Amish practice my wife and I have developed. Among the families I serve on a “house calls” only basis is a man and his wife and their five children. Two of the children, ages 6 and 8, are severely challenged with cerebral palsy and require constant care of the most basic sort. They must be fed one bite at a time. They must be clothed and bathed daily. And they must be transported, as both are wheel chair ridden. There are no hired hands – no nurses or nannies. The Amish man and his wife are also dairy farmers which is a twice a day, seven days a week enterprise. Need I say these people are busy? Burdened is more descript.
Without fail, I seem to mention to these two parents how impressed I continue to be with their stamina and determination. Their wearied countenances belie the pleasant manner in which they conduct themselves. For some reason, on this particular visit, I mentioned to the man that I had been tossing around in my mind the definitions of happiness and joy.
To my surprise, the Amish dairyman, normally reserved in nature, uncharacteristically pounced on the subject. “Well, there’s difference alright. Let me tell you.”
I let him.
“Happiness usually comes out of your circumstances. You know, when things are going your way, so to speak. Joy, on the other hand, comes from knowing God’s in charge no matter what the circumstances.”
This is a man, I thought to myself, who knows from whence he speaks. I could see he was not finished. So I let him continue.
“Now, the devil likes to work your circumstances to take the smile off your face. He wants you unhappy. That way he figures he can weaken your walk with the Lord. My wife and I figure the best way to defeat that old codger is to keep it in mind that he wants us unhappy. So we figure God gave us these kids and in the condition they’re in for a reason. The Book says His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts, higher than our thoughts. If God wants it this way then we best find a way to appreciate ourselves. That’s what I’d call joy. Happiness? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes we’re just bone tired of the whole picture. But the joy comes in knowing that God’s in control.”
I was both speechless and convinced. This man had obviously been working for quite some time on finding joy in the midst of his surroundings. The model these two parents had shown me down through the years left me without argument. If their example was proof enough, then there definitely is a difference between happiness and joy.
My next patient was himself a bishop in the Amish settlement. An elderly man, he had suffered an aneurysm at a fortuitous moment, I might add, while visiting a friend in the hospital. Because he was in the hospital, his life had been spared. “Right place at the right time,” the bishop had told me once when I visited him during his recovery. On this particular day, I mentioned to him that his color was particularly good and that he was carrying himself with renewed strength and confidence.
“You’re looking fit and fiddle,” I said.
“Fiddle’s more like it,” he joked.
Then he shared with me how there was a time during the darkest hours of his setback that he had actually wished it were over, that he could have gone to his eternal resting place.
Yes, that bad,” replied the bishop. “I was hurting so and the fatigue was so heavy that I just wished that the aneurysm had hit me harder or at a different place and time.”
The man walked outside with me as I prepared to depart from his home, having adjusted him, his wife, and two daughters. Out in the lane, a group of five or six kittens were tumbling each other about as the mother lay out flat in the gravel.
“Ornery little things,” the Amish man said with a grin, gesturing toward the newborns.
“Yes… and it sure is good to see you smiling and happy,” I said. Which, of course, renewed my pursuit of the difference between joy and happiness. I asked, “Do you find there’s a difference between joy and happiness?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I do.”
The bishop told of a “car wedding” he had once gone to. “You know, a how do you say it a ‘ceremony’ conducted by a preacher who wasn’t Amish,” he explained. Anyway, I’ll never forget his statement to the couple. He prayed that they would “find joy amidst their sorrows.”
There it was again, I thought to myself. The joy of knowing that a sovereign God is in charge regardless of circumstances or how things appear.
My appreciation for the difference between the two words joy and happiness might best be summed up during a wake I attended for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 4-year old Amish girl who had died from morphine intoxication administered during what many today consider as routine surgery -tonsillectomy. Which, seems to me, begs the question: “How do we factor in cultural differences and any fears or misgivings those might evoke in a patient prior to the administration of anesthetic?” I had seen the girl the week prior to the scheduled surgery and I was not particularly pleased with the parent’s decision to proceed, but their minds were made up after months and months of tonsillitis in their child. It was not a visitation I was looking forward to, but I had received a phone call, detailing the times and place which, of course, was the home and felt “called” to be there.
At the open casket, I lost composure and began to shake a bit in the room full of men dressed in black and white and women in plain, dark dresses and bonnets. The child’s grandfather who had been seated right near the casket immediately stood and rested a hand on my shoulder with these words, “The Lord’s in charge here. She’s truly in a better place.”
I could see the joy, the strength, in this man’s face. There was no denying it. The joy of the Lord is his strength.
So, yes, indeed there is a difference between joy and happiness. The joy is knowing that God is always in charge, no matter the circumstances. Recognizing that joy can lead you to discover the thread of happiness that flows from it.
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The author: Dr. Will Tickel is a practicing chiropractor in southern Ohio and Cincinnati who particularly enjoys his work among the Amish. He is a published author of two books relating to health and healing.
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