Day 33 – Joy Rooted in Love
Contentment and joy are rooted in love. When we receive and experience God’s love in the Spirit, joy is part of the package. The fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5 lists nine aspects of the fruit. Rather than describing nine separate pieces of fruit, they are referred to as a singular unit. Love could be described as the overarching description with all the other aspects being specific descriptions of the experience of love. Joy comes immediately after love on the list.
The love of God for His people is clear in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each book was written by Moses who led the people out of slavery in Egypt. The intention of what was recorded in these books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was to explain how God had made a covenant with the people that He was faithfully keeping. In Genesis 12 and 15, the covenant is described as an unconditional promise. God would be faithful no matter what. Even as the people of Israel failed to live up to their identity as the beloved of God, God made a way for them. While pain and difficult consequences resulted from not trusting Him, He never turned His back. Over and over again, God pursued His people. He was present. He listened to their cries for help. He led them through the wilderness. While many have questioned the presence of the love of God in the Old Testament, His love is overwhelmingly present. Consider these words from Deuteronomy 7 that explain God’s faithfulness to His promise:
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. (vs. 6-9)
As we have explored previously, the steadfast love of God is the Hebrew word hesed which speaks of His loyal, faithful, pursuing love. He chooses us to be His beloved, His treasure. The reference in verse 9 to “a thousand generations” invokes a phrase from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (vs. 4-6)
While our unfaithfulness may create consequences that last for a few generations, His love extends to a thousand generations. A powerful statement is being made about God’s love … it is more powerful and longer lasting than our lack of faith and trust. God’s hesed beckons us back to Himself over and over again. A significant loss of joy occurs when we dwell upon and even define ourselves by our sin and/or lack of trust. In His love, God leads us to remember that we are His people … this is our identity. We can wallow in the discontentment of our sins and failures, or we can listen to God’s voice which calls us His own … His treasure. His love and His loyalty to us is more significant than we can imagine. His love leads us into joy. No matter where we find ourselves, His love is present and preeminent. Contentment unfolds before our eyes.
Part of what we begin to notice in the desert is that as we return to God’s love as our reference point, we notice God changing and shaping our heart. We notice a freedom and detachment from the conditions of the desert. This is God’s work and His initiative that shapes us as we seek to be present to His love.
The great English mystic of the early 20th century, Evelyn Underhill, observed: “God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament.” Receiving God’s love means being able to say: I love my life. There is deep joy and contentment in that. Notice: we are not saying that we love the circumstances around us or what we have and don’t have or what we do and don’t do. We can say that we love “life” because life is not defined by all these external realities but by the love and presence of God. In this space, we are accessing deep joy. We might even be surprised by joy.
When seriously ill and living in a time of pandemic (bubonic plague) and war (100 Years War), Julian of Norwich (14th century) experienced a vision of God in which she heard Him say, “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” The war started before she was born and ended after she died. The plague affected her village in England three different times. She was transformed by the love of God and experienced deep joy as Christ became her life as evidenced in the statement that “love is our Lord’s meaning.”
“The contemplative vision keeps before us the truth that the deepest longings of our heart were placed there by a loving God, to find their fulfillment only in relationship with God.” Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE
Questions for reflection: are you tempted to define life by the circumstances of life and your interaction with them? How might you grow in being able to say: “I love my life”?
Prayer: Lord, I can see the ways I often define my life by my failures, and yet I desire deeply to grow further into seeing life through my identity as Your beloved. I thank You for the ways that Your surprise me by joy. Amen.