The Joy Conundrum
I coach Christians who are discontent with their life. Interestingly, they’re mostly folks who have–relatively speaking–a pretty good life. Far from perfect, but far, too, from disastrous. When it comes to work, marriage, parenting, health and finances, the clients I work with are more blessed than challenged. And yet something significant is still missing in their lives.
What is it that their hearts crave? At the most basic and foundational level, what does your heart crave? The answers I most often hear are “purpose” and “meaning.”
But sometimes I probe just a little deeper and ask: “Why do you want purpose and meaning? What do you hope to have then?” The answer I get most frequently is “joy.”
In any economically developed nation, once a person has food, shelter and clothing, joy becomes the need that most drives thinking, behavior, and decisions.
Most people know what joy is. For instance, they all know happiness is dependent upon circumstances, while joy is independent of them. The challenge is that they don’t know how to attain joy. It’s a huge mystery to them.
People who are discontent will turn to all sorts of things to ease the pain: materialism, drugs, alcohol, career success, pornography, bucket lists, etc. This is true for Christians and non-Christians alike. Those without faith in their lives may start seeking spiritual solutions to their discontentment problem. But the people my organization helps are already Christians: They’ve prayed the prayer, got the ticket to heaven, and have earnestly tried to live what they personally define as “the Christian life.”
The discontent problem they are wrestling with is particularly vexing for them because they know from scripture that Jesus came specifically to give them an abundant life (John 10:10), a joyful life (John 15:11), and a peaceful life (John 14:27). And so they are left scratching their heads, wondering why they aren’t experiencing what they assume everyone else is experiencing.
The truth of the matter is that they aren’t alone: Most Christians view their faith as a moral code and lifestyle to live by instead of a supernatural transformation of their hearts and minds and how they see and experience the world.
And so they are stuck: discontent and confused. Until one day—when the pain finally gets high enough–they decide to take bold action to snap out of their malaise. The typical thought pattern that kicks in at this stage is incredibly common: “My discontent is a result of my disobedience. If I can just get my life fully aligned with my faith–start living selflessly and more lovingly–God will bless my disciplined, others-centric effort.”
They are correct in this assumption–partly. Obedience most surely leads to blessing. Leveraging the skills that we are good at and that energize us on issues that we (and God) are passionate about will most surely be a huge step in the right direction toward joy. But the danger is that the emotion fueling this effort to “do good” is either selfishness (“I’m willing to jump through hoops for God if it will lead to me getting my joy”) or guilt (“I need to perform for God to earn His love and be blessed with His joy”). Both are dangerous dead ends that lead to performance- oriented faith, legalism, and Christian volunteerism. This style of Christian living is a surefire formula for anger and exhaustion.
The trick to joy is to focus on “What am I going to Do?” and “Who am I going to Be?” The Doing question is a practical issue while the Being question is a spiritual issue.
So real joy comes not from either Doing or Being. It’s both. In parallel and simultaneously. The beauty of this approach is that getting guidance on how to take your faith to the next level not only fuels you with the love and energy to go Do, but your new self-awareness will inform you of what specifically to Do and who to Be. Jeff Spadafora
In our experience, once a person starts to get healed and whole, then we can shift gears to coach them on the practical aspects of managing their life in a healthy way. You’ll find that getting back into the kingdom-building game becomes as easy as breathing. You move from volunteering to true calling. True joy.
By: Jeff Spadafora
Jeff Spadafora is the Director of Global Coaching Services at the Haltime Institute (www.halftime.org). This article is based on his forthcoming book Finally Fulfilled: From Smoldering Discontent to Lasting Joy. He lives in Evergreen Colorado with his wife Michelle and 3 teenage children. He enjoys fishing, hunting, skiing, mountain biking and everything else the great outdoors of Colorado has to offer.