Joy is not something that can be willed. We cannot wake up one morning and say, "Today I will be joyful." Joy is the positive organic outgrowth of vibrant faith and life in Jesus.
For those of us who do not lead joyful lives, how can we begin to approach joy? That may not even be the right question because joy is not the goal, but He who gives rise to joy. So let's reorient the question. If we wish to have the joy of the Lord, how do we go about receiving it?
As noted before, joy is not the end, but a kind of side-effect of the end. Prayer seems the most obvious answer to how we become acquainted with the Source of Joy. But perhaps the word prayer needs a little explanation in this context. Perhaps we need a more "active" understanding of prayer. By that, I mean that many seem to think that prayer is often a sitting, standing, or kneeling activity in which the mind is directly engaged in either discursive meditation or recitation of "standard" prayers.
But prayer is not just something we do, it is also a state of being. We can be "in prayer" every waking moment. That, I believe, is what St. Paul meant when he told us to "Pray constantly." Obviously we cannot direct the interior dialogue all day long because there are things in life to which we must apply thought that would interfere with this discursive activity. Being "in prayer" consists of recognizing in the moment God's presence in our lives. It is in the classical terminology, "practicing the presence of God." Now, the term "practicing" is probably difficult and misleading. It sounds as though we can somehow make God appear by practice. The practice--or more appropriately, the discipline--of being aware of God's action in our lives is an "active" form of prayer. It isn't a discursive meditation, it isn't even a recital of vocal prayers. Rather it is a consistent internal reminder--the space of a moment--when we say, "God is here, in this moment too." And then we return to work aware of His presence in what we do.
When we begin this practice, we do well to say a very short prayer of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving flows from a humble heart that knows how much there is to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is an expression of deep gratitude. The expression of thanksgiving, more than anything else gives rise to a very deep feeling of attachment and love. Praise also contains elements of love, but it gives rise more to an exaltation of spirit, a recognition of glory. But thanksgiving is an act of humility that cultivates in its most rarified form true love and true attachment to God. When we realize how naked, alone, and incapable we are, it is a natural human instinct to turn to Someone for comfort, protection, and help. Gratitude teaches us to look to God and to trust Him. It shows us that He has been with us in the past and will continue to be our strength and our support.
Gratitude cultivates love, and love realized takes us out of the shell of self and transports us into eternity. Love is transcendent--it is an act of will and an emotion. It is a recognition of the necessity of the Other. Love is eternal and Love is incarnate. When we love, we live the life of Jesus. It is to be our sign, our banner, our pattern of recognition of one another.
From love flows joy--the serious business of heaven. The assurance of the beloved, the sure knowledge of the truth, the serenity of His presence, the acceptance of His will. All of these are part of joy and yet joy is so much more--encompassing all of this and more.
We will not know joy until we come to love and trust. I am learning these things slowly--far too slowly. But love and joy both come in their own time through God's all-giving grace. I can make small motions toward these, but in the end it is God who grants them in their fullest as we dispose ourselves to receive them.
After all of this it boils down to--where is joy to be found? In gratitude, in grateful acknowledgment of all that God has given me, has shown me, has made of me, has offered me. This is the beginning. It is the small movement of will that disposes us to receive even greater graces. Gratitude--the simple courtesy to say, "Thank you," to the One who loves us.