“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.  When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.  For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” – Acts 8:5-8
My friend convinced me that I was wrong.  I don’t think that was her intention but, thankfully, that was the outcome.
I was skeptical that we could create joy within ourselves.  How can we will ourselves feel a certain way?
With minimal details and a straightforward delivery she spoke of a toxic relationship she endured for years.  There came a point when a variety of factors combined that gave her the strength to walk away once and for all.  It wasn’t long until others in her life began to comment on a lighter, happier demeanor that shone in her eyes and actions.  Because she sought freedom, joy once again grew within her.
Maybe we can’t force ourselves to feel joyful but we can take steps towards freedom.  Joy blooms in the light of freedom.
The early church, much like the ministry of Jesus, is replete with stories of healing.  Healing meant more than physical health.  Stories of healing are stories of freedom.  Freedom from isolation caused by illness.  Freedom from the corrosive effects of shame.  Freedom from the confines society creates around gender or socio-economic status.  Freedom from toxic relationships.  Freedom from debilitating conditions.
The work of healing in scripture is intimately tied to the work of liberation.  It’s no wonder then that joy was a hallmark of the early church.
I’ve changed my mind.  We can create joy, just not the way I thought, through the force of will.  We create joy by cleaning the land of the weeds and rocks that choke and restrict.  We create the space for the joy to grow by joining the Holy Spirit in her labor of liberation.
“We need to be reminded that at its heart Christianity is joy and that laughter and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the essence of it.” ― Frederick Buechner