Recently, I had a doctor appointment with a neurologist to talk about some issues I have been having in the last couple of years. During the course of the visit, he began to ask me about my psychological health, citing that nerve issues are often tied to our emotions and how we are handling our environment. He asked one question that required the most simplistic answer...and I couldn't give it.
"Are you happy?"
I long ago discovered that happiness is very different from joy. The last two years of my life, the Lord has really been breaking me, molding and reshaping me, refining me so I can reflect His image. I have the uncomfortable yet wonderful feeling that He isn't done yet. Things have been stressful. There are happy moments and tearful moments, frustrating moments, and moments of deep peace. But I can honestly say I am not happy all the time. So I answered very honestly and very bluntly.
"I am content."
"Content? That's not happy." He was very confused and looked like he wanted to write that I had an emotional problem instead of a physical problem. Trying to be patient I explained.
"I'm not happy all the time. Life is rough. But I am content with where I am at right now."
Here I believe is the difference between happiness and contentment...happiness is a feeling often based on external circumstances. It is a fickle emotion that can ebb and flow like the tides. But contentment....that is something different entirely. It is a deep set, untouchable, unemotional understanding and reassurance that:
a)God is who He says He is
b)He is in control and doesn't change despite the circumstance
c)I can rest in who I am in Him
Contentment is unshakable, and it is pure peace. Telling this doctor that I am always happy would have been a lie. But telling Him I am content, that I know that God is in control despite my circumstances, and that I can be joyful is true. Joy and contentment are choices not based on circumstances or emotion. They are based on the goodness and consistency of the God of the Universe. The very One who made YOU and desires a relationship with YOU. When you know who you are in Him - a beautiful child of the King, bought and paid for with an unconditional love - then that joy and contentment override all else.
James 1:2-4 says, "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you face trials of many kinds for the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
John 16:22 says, "So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy."
Isaiah 35:10 says, "And the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."
Life is tough. But Jesus can make the journey a beautiful time of joy, no matter how dark the circumstance. Yes, I am happy. Not always. However, I forever want to say that I am content and filled with joy because I know whom I serve and I know He is bigger than any circumstance. No, it won't be easy, but I commit to choose joy, even when I don't feel like it. My prayer is that the God of joy will fill you with His peace and His version of happiness....all-consuming, unconditional joy.