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FAITHFUL LIVING: We grow when we find joy jostrengthens our lives

High King of heaven, my victory won,

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

-- Ancient Irish hymn, translated to English by Mary Elizabeth Byrne in 1905.

I’m not sure when my love for words first developed, but I’m guessing it was while attending high school. Like most teens, when I began using common slang and incorporating it into my everyday communications, I came to understand how the English language evolves from generation to generation. I watched as it reflected social change and required us to put a genuine effort toward clear communication — especially with out teachers and parents. Even today new words so quickly develop and become a part of our everyday language that dictionary publishers must make changes on a regular basis. In fact, if you regularly peruse a dictionary more than 5 years old, you really should treat yourself to a new one.

Today, I spend a great amount of time working with teens and the words I use when speaking to them constantly occupy my attentions, for conversations with kids are frequently rapid fire — just like the instantaneous and media-clogged world in which they live. I’ve learned to incorporate some of the common lingo like, “Cool!” but you’ll never hear me refer to a friend as, “Dude!”— even though I’ve heard it said with an element of affection. Nonetheless, I take each conversation seriously and challenge myself to find creative ways to inform, guide and educate. I do my best to mold my words and references to each listener during my daily conversations.

I find this word tailoring rather fascinating. When I am working in a school setting my topics and references vary greatly from the ones I choose when I am talking with Boy Scouts, horse lovers, quilters or when participating in a Bible study. Years ago when a newspaper editor first hired me to write “Faithful Living,” he challenged me to bridge the gap often caused when Christians use lingo that can appear insensitive, confusing and righteous to those outside the fold. I continue to take that challenge seriously.

And yet, sometimes introducing a seldom-used word has its place, for a single word can prompt a dramatic change in thinking, choices and direction. Take the word “joy.” Some of us may insert it into a sentence or sing about it during Christmas holiday season, but you almost never hear kids use it. “Joy” seems to be selected most often by mothers or Christians, accustomed to hearing it referenced in scripture.

This is unfortunate, for using “joy” may sound old fashioned, conservative or heaven forbid “uncool,” but joy speaks to a state of mind humans long for, and what I know I need when night canopies the house; all is quiet and sleep evades me. I want to know how to spot joy, tune in to joy and allow it to permeate my very being, for joy is deeper than a state of happiness and surpasses the feeling you get when your heart is “glad.”

King David, when writing Psalm 17 (located in the Old Testament of the Bible), helps us to make a connection with the concept of joy, when he explains not only what joy feels like, but also its benefits and how to obtain it. Joy, it turns out, is far deeper than happiness; we can feel joy in spite of our deepest troubles. Happiness is based on external experiences and is temporary in nature. But joy is a lasting gift from God when we make an effort to connect with Him and draw ourselves into His presence. In connecting with God and incorporating His wisdom, encouragement, hope and peace into our daily lives, our gift will be the experience of joy.

In the book of Philippians (located in the Bible’s New Testament), the apostle Paul is imprisoned when he writes words of advice and encouragement from his cell to the young Christians living in the city of Philippi. And you have guessed it — he is full of joy because he knew that no matter what happened to him, God’s spirit was with him. While it is easy for most of us to feel discouraged in response to unpleasant circumstances or make small problems bigger than they need to be, joy counteracts our human nature.

Joy from God becomes our strength. It counterbalances the darkness, the fear, the stress, the worry and the anxiety that finances and children, health and aging will inevitably bring into our lives.

So how are we to make this connection with the God of the universe? Let’s head that direction next week and consider the role hope can play in our lives. Until then, start looking for those strengthening moments of joy.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is jbklope@hotmail.com.

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