Tis the season for joy

Written by Celeste Zuch
Published on December 23, 2022

Every parent has hopes and dreams for their child. 

Years ago, my husband and I attended an event at our child’s school, and something the speaker said has stuck with me ever since. She said that, per polling data, in the 1960’s when parents were asked what they wished most for their child, the greatest response was for him or her to grow up to be a good citizen.  

Times have changed and these days if you ask a parent what they wish most for their child, the likely answer is that they just want their child to be happy. 

Though that answer is formulated with good intentions, it is focusing on the wrong thing. 

Instead of hoping for happiness, parents should pray for joy.  

Happiness and joy are often used interchangeably—even Merriam-Webster lists them as synonyms. However, for Christians, they have significantly different meanings.  

Happiness is a feeling one gets when they experience something they perceive as positive. Merriam-Webster defines the word happy as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.”  

Happiness is fleeting and dependent on external factors. For example, my son was so happy when he completed the Star Wars lego set his grandparents had sent him. But about 30 minutes later he erupted in tears when his little brother picked it up and the whole thing fell apart.  

Happiness is not guaranteed 

The problem with hoping that your child will be happy is that continual happiness is impossible. Even the founding fathers of the United States understood that. 

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that people are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (emphasis mine). 

Happiness is not guaranteed. And something that may bring happiness to one person may bring sadness to another. 

I remember when my children went on a campout in Colorado, and I prayed fervently that it would not rain. When I told my husband how happy I was that it didn’t rain, he reminded me that the farmer down the road had prayed for a downpour. 

Joy is from God 

Whereas happiness comes and goes, joy, for Christians, is a consistent feeling in our hearts. 

We have joy because “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). 

Joy is knowing that regardless of your circumstances you are loved, watched over, and you have the blessed assurance of an eternity with God that is going to be so amazing that we don’t even have words on earth to describe it.   

We have joy because of what Jesus has done for us, not because of anything we have done or will do. Because of that, no one can ever take away our joy. That is great news! 

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit 

The Holy Spirit fans the flames of joy within us. When the Apostle Paul explained the Holy Spirit to the Galatians, he did so by saying that it provides “fruit” in our lives. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23 ESV). 

Notice that joy is so powerful that he listed it as second only to love. 

I remember as a little girl in the church choir belting out the lyrics “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart – down in my heart to stay!” 

Joy in the trials of life 

The Bible reminds us that we can have joy even in the trials of life. 

Habakkuk tells us that “though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:17–19 NIV). 

A friend recently recounted an extremely difficult time in her life. She said that even in her darkest days she felt a strong sense of hope and a courage to carry on that was far more than she could muster alone. 

She said “I wasn’t happy, but I did have joy.” 

Another reason I believe it is incorrect for parents to wish for their children to be happy is because some unhappiness is healthy. Times of trials teach us to be empathetic to others and teach us that we can’t do it all ourselves in this life.  

James said to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4 ESV).   

‘Tis the season of joy 

We often see and hear the word “joy” during the Christmas season. One of the most iconic Christmas hymns says “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”  

When the angel declared the birth of the Christ child to the shepherds in the field, the first thing that the angel said was “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11 NIV). 

The Christmas season also brings a plethora of ways to display our own joy and to shine a light for Jesus. A friend recently gave me a bracelet that says joy on one side and Jesus, Others, Yourself on the other. 

When we teach our children to put Jesus first in their lives, they learn to put others ahead of themselves. That is true joy. 

So parents, let’s stop wishing for happiness for our children. Instead, let’s pray to God that he would fill them with joy.  

Consider a few extra resources:

How can Christians cultivate joy in the midst of hardship?

3 Keys to Unlocking Your Family’s Calling—And Your Own

Teaching Gratitude

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Celeste Zuch

Celeste Zuch and her husband, Kurt, reside in Dallas, Texas and have four children – two in college and two in high school. She enjoys writing and teaching Bible studies for youth, married couples, and women. While living in Atlanta, she served on the Executive Board for Women’s Community Bible Study (WCBS), a group of nearly 500 women who meet weekly to study God’s Word.  For many years, she has shared God’s Word with children in confirmation and Sunday school classes. Celeste is also passionate about education and serves on the Advisory Board of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, as well as The Shelton School in Dallas. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling, exercising, and most of all spending time with her family.

Read more about Celeste

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