The following conversation is built upon The Meeting House’s series The Look of Love. Have a watch of Bruxy’s talk in the video below and read the conversation starter before jumping into a conversation in your own house church.
The Look of Love: Joy as an Expression of Love
By Emma Hughes
In the last two weeks we have begun to take a look at the fruit of the spirit. In Galatians 5, Paul speaks of ‘fruit’ rather than ‘fruits’ because all the attributes listed after love are the expressions or manifestation of love.
Last week we learned that love is the choice to relate to someone as valuable, it is unconditional, active and energising. It always blesses both people.
TWO WAYS TO LIVE
Bruxy describes a normal day but in two completely different ways. It is fundamentally the same day, but with two completely different approaches to the circumstances. The mental focus changes, what we choose to keep at the center of our minds.
If we choose to focus on the positive, we are partnering with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us. There are always going to be some awesome days and some terrible ones, but most days are the mundane type that we can impact with our attitude.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT JOY
1. Joy flows from our relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit
Joy is the manifestation of the spirit. There are many commands in the Bible to rejoice, be joyful. When we experience joy, we are partnering with the spirit.
2. Joy is bigger, better and more beautiful than happiness
Happiness is the emotional response to a set of circumstances, joy is independent of the meaning of the circumstances.
Bruxy describes three circles of reality. An inner circle which is our reality, a wider circle which is the reality of the world and an outer circle which is the ultimate reality within which everything is framed. This means that despite the circumstances that are going on in the inner two circles, we can choose joy because it is rooted in the ultimate reality of God’s universe. You can still mourn sad circumstances, but have joy in hope.
3. Joy and suffering are often mentioned together in the Bible
1 Thessalonians 1:6: You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
4. As an expression of love, joy is good for you and others around you
A joyful person is not dependent on personality. A joyful person sees the positive in every situation, leans into life and is an easier person to be around, more approachable.
In your joy you will love others well and model something that will have a positive effect on them.
2 Corinthians 8:2: In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
5. Joy is cultivated through gratitude
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Gratitude is cultivated through an intentional focus
Bruxy refers to Dr Rick Hanson’s book ‘Hardwiring Happiness’ which deals with our power to shape and reshape our brain.
There are neural pathways in the brain which etch a path through the forest in our mind, and there are pathways that are created when our mind thinks certain thoughts repeatedly. Our brain shapes itself to think the thoughts our mind wants to think. There is a physical change in the matter. If our mind chooses different thoughts, at first it will be difficult because we are creating new neural pathways, but our brain can actually change.
If we partner with the spirit to choose the right thoughts, the right approach to life, we can create new neural circuitry.
Bruxy acknowledges that there is a built in negativity bias which is helpful for survival, a mentality that says it is better to be safe than sorry, but we take that bias into too many areas. We are skeptical and judge, which is good for survival but not for relationship. Our negative thinking leads to suspicion and judgement which leads to relational distance which leads to confirmation and reinforcement of that negative thinking.
BUT, we can choose to see things through a hope filled lense.
Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Scientists say that in order to do this, we need multiple pause points throughout the day. If, 5 – 10 times a day, you pause for 10 seconds to focus on a hopeful reality it will begin to change your emotions.
Examples of good pause points: The last thoughts you think before falling asleep shapes the brain you have to live with for the next day and the day to come. The first moments when you wake up are also important to frame your attitude for the day (pause to reflect on the sounds, the birds, the magnitude of nature). Look at people, pets, children, music. This will etch new neural pathways. When you dance to happy music, you are partnering your physical reality with your mind to create new stories.
“Ultimately God’s love is the context that should lead to our joy. We choose our focus which gets us in tune with our ultimate reality. Which makes us the joyful person that becomes a blessing to others that attracts more people into our lives that leans us into other people’s difficulties, we are not afraid to be difference makers. Joy can help us conquer fear. All of that will begin to grow in you as you make choices in line with the spirit.”
The gospel is good news and we can choose focus on that as our ultimate reality.
Matthew 13:44: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“One of the most profound changes in my life happened when I got my head around the relationship between gratitude and joy. I always thought that joyful people were grateful people. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They have all of that goodness to be grateful for. But after spending countless hours collecting stories about joy and gratitude, three powerful patterns emerged: Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice. Both joy and gratitude were described as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human interconnectedness and a power greater than us. People were quick to point out the differences between happiness and joy as the difference between a human emotion that’s connected to circumstances and a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”
“Now I can lean into joy, even when it makes me feel tender and vulnerable. In fact, I expect tender and vulnerable. Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees—these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy. In fact, addiction research shows us that an intensely positive experience is as likely to cause relapse as an intensely painful experience.”
“Joy and gratitude can be very vulnerable and intense experiences. We are an anxious people and many of us have very little tolerance for vulnerability. Our anxiety and fear can manifest as scarcity. We think to ourselves: I’m not going to allow myself to feel this joy because I know it won’t last. Acknowledging how grateful I am is an invitation for disaster. I’d rather not be joyful than have to wait for the other shoe to drop.”
-Brene Brown, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’.
Conversation Starter Questions
1. Does the two approaches to the same day resonate with you? Do you agree that the exact same things could happen to and around you but, depending on how you process it, you hand it totally differently?
2. Think about an experience or day you’ve had that could been TERRIBLE but wasn’t because of the way you processed it. Or what about a day that you had that was TERRIBLE but could’ve been different if you processed it differently?
3. What do you think of Bruxy’s 5 points about joy?
4. Do you consider yourself a joyous person? Does joy come easy to you?
5. Do you have regular rhythms in your life that help you consciously be grateful? How do you practice gratitude? What are some things you can do to help embed gratitude as a rhythm?