August 16, 2006

Pride (5) and Joy

2006 1523 page22 caphe phrase “pride and joy” has been rolling around in my head lately. I have been thinking of it as if it were an oxymoron—a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms. But are pride and joy contradictory?
A quick trip to the dictionary helped me clear up my uncertainty. It is definition number five for the word “pride”1—an exaggerated idea of one’s dignity or importance—that for me creates a “perceived oxymoron”2 when used with the word “joy.”
OK. What am I talking about?
Once upon a time I was called to leave my home and go to a strange land, exchanging my work environment from a boisterous one of academy administration to a nearly silent one of introspective corporate sedateness. There was nothing inherently wrong with the corporate sedateness. But the change did strip away all the daily relational props (even with my father and my cat) that contributed to my sense of indispensable worth, and just possibly to an “exaggerated idea of . . . dignity or importance.”
At that point in my life, it seemed, “Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death [rather than in an environment where I felt needed]. When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul” (Ps. 94:17-19).* That was the beginning not only of my sense of tension between the words “pride” and “joy,” but also a better understanding of what joy is to the Christian.
2006 1523 page22“You will fill me with joy in your presence” (Ps. 16:11). “Surely you have . . . made [me] glad with the joy of your presence” (Ps. 21:6). “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Ps. 30:11). “The joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Neh. 8:10). God seemed to whisper to me, “I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt. . . . Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful” (Jer. 31:4).
I was learning that being emptied of “an exaggerated idea of [my] dignity or importance” made room for me to be filled. And what He filled me with was His presence, which brought along joy—the singing and dancing kind of joy, a joy from which I could minister again—but this time from a place of fullness, not emptiness.
Once I was emptied of the crutches of my own making, and God had my attention, He graciously directed me to be still and get to know Him (see Ps. 46:10). Be still from worrying and obsessing and trying so hard to maintain the image of “dignity or importance”; be still from trying to arrange and control other people’s lives. To know that He makes the plan; He provides the power; and my job is to seek each day to be empowered by the joy of His presence.
David said, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14). In other words, the joy of His presence is on tap every morning. I can follow His directions all day and stay filled with His joy (see John 15:11).
But the journey toward joy made an even more complete circle when I realized that God also found joy in my presence; that He took great delight in me, in quieting me with His love, and rejoicing over me with singing (see Zeph. 3:17). In a small devotional calendar that a former student had given me as I was leaving that noisy world of academics for the quieter corporate one, it was stated this way: “At the impulse of His love, I can awaken enthusiastically each morning with the jubilantly uplifting thought, ‘I am loved! Bring on the day!’”
For me, that’s the sound of reciprocal joy. Joy that is found only when we relinquish the exaggerated emptiness of our own dignity and importance—pride (5)—and rest quietly, as a little child, in His presence and peace.
*All Bible texts taken from the New International Version, emphases supplied.
1The Random House College Dictionary.
Kathy Beagles is editor of junior, earliteen, and youth Bible study guides for the General Conference Sabbath School Department.