Last week I (the Reverend) bumped into a favorite passage of Scripture found near the very end of the Hebrew Bible. I heard it a lot as a kid. It gets imprinted on a lot of kitschy stuff like mugs, t-shirts and hats. Here is what it says. The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Here is what I like about it. Regardless of what we believe about the Divine, there is certainly widespread agreement that joy has its source outside of us. Someone once said that the difference between joy and happiness is that happiness always depends on what happens. Joy, by contrast, is not dependent upon our circumstances. Can somebody say, “Amen!”
Last week, I needed a particular lightbulb for our master bathroom. I checked at both Home Depot and Ring’s End Lumber and not only did they not have any, but they didn’t even know where I could find one. When I next I asked our properties manager if he knew where I might find these specialty lightbulbs, he said, “Oh, I have some.” I could have kept looking in lots of places and never found one because I was looking in all the wrong places. That is the way it is with joy. If we are looking for it exclusively in things, experiences, relationships, accomplishments etc., it will continue to be an elusive pursuit for us.
So where can joy be found? I’ll tell you where I always see it: Wherever people are tapped into loving, giving and serving.
Pastor John Ortberg offered a great example of this when he commented in an article that appeared on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle a few years ago. It’s about a metro-transit operator named Linda Wilson-Allen. She loves the people who ride her bus, learns their names, and waits for them if they’re late and then makes up the time later on her route.
A woman in her eighties named Ivy had some heavy grocery bags and was struggling with them. So Linda got out of her bus driver’s seat to carry Ivy’s grocery bags onto the bus. Now Ivy lets other buses pass her stop so she can ride on Linda’s bus.
Linda saw a woman named Tanya in a bus shelter. She could tell Tanya was new to the area and she was lost. It was almost Thanksgiving, so Linda said to Tanya, “You’re out here all by yourself. You don’t know anybody. Come on over for Thanksgiving and kick it with me and the kids.” Now they’re friends.
Linda has built such a little community of blessing on that bus that passengers offer Linda the use of their vacation homes. They bring her potted plants and floral bouquets. When people found out she likes to wear scarves to accessorize her uniforms, they started giving them as presents to Linda. Think about what a thankless task driving a bus can look like in our world: cranky passengers, engine breakdowns, traffic jams, gum on the seats.
You ask yourself, How does she have this attitude?” Her mood is set at 2:30 AM when she gets down on her knees to pray every day for 30 minutes, when she finds her strength and joy,” the Chronicle states. When she gets to the end of her line, she always says, “That’s all. I love you. Take care.” Have you ever had a bus driver tell you, “I love you”?
People wonder, Where can I find joy? I will tell you where. You can find it on the #45 bus riding through San Francisco…behind the wheel of a metro transit vehicle.
May we find it too, during this season of lights, this season of joy.
Click here to purchase Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s book, What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?