A common theme in many people’s lives is trying to figure out how to “let things go.” Those being let go generally are such things as past rejection, dysfunctional relationships, depressive thoughts, anger, fear, and un-forgiveness. It is very well understood that God does not want us holding onto negativity. Instead of negativity we are to have good thoughts of Scripture and be full of joy. God has given us the perfect remedy that gives us strength to let things go and to live successfully for Him. He made our minds to hold joy. It is a brilliant plan.
Romans 15:13 Nowmay the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This Scripture states that God will fill us with all joy. God designed our brains so that joy is the filter through which we are to view all of life. In order for us to be able to withstand the assaults of life and to develop fully into mature believers who live for the Kingdom, we have to develop a heart full of God’s joy. Where does joy come from?
As infants and young children, we are the “sparkle” in our parents’ eyes. They brighten up, smile, and engage with loving eye contact. Behavioral research has reported that the cycle of joy is shared between two people by eye contact in six cycles per second. That means that one person looks at another in the eyes and is in effect saying, “I am glad to be with you!” The other person says the same thing back with his/her eyes, and this cycles back and forth six times in one second. That seems incredible. We fill each other with joy through our relational contact.
The total opposite of joy is a syndrome called “failure to thrive.” Children in orphanages (especially in refugee camps or deprived countries) who are not held nor have eye to eye contact fail to grow physically, cognitively, and emotionally. They lie in their cribs and whimper and won’t even reach for a toy or people. If these children don’t die from lack of growth before two years of age, they can be the actual size of a six-month old. This is an extreme absence of joy. This horrific lack leads to a slow, withering away death. In cases where people lacked joy in not so severe a way, they tend to be depressed, unfaithful, self-focused, and at times, aggressive.
Children search faces and eyes to connect with in order to share joy. When a child is brought up in a family where he is beloved, he receives this joy over and over again, building and expanding joy in the mind. Joy is very relational.
Children learn that they receive and give joy with parents and then transfer that joy relationship to God. They learn that, just as my parents’ desire me, God desires me and is glad to be with me.
The great news is that even if as children we did not get our joy filled by our parents and caregivers, we as adults can receive joy from God who designed our minds to hold joy. Neuroscientists have found a place in the frontal cortex of the brain that holds joy and happiness. This part of the brain has been shown, in part, to be the regulator or executive in charge of emotion, our immune system, and pain. It guides us to act like ourselves; releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin; and is the only part of the brain that overrides the main drive centers like food, sexual impulses, terror, and rage (Freisen, J., 2000). God designed our brains to have as the main emotion in charge – JOY. There is a lot to the study of how the brain works these functions, but joy is the mechanism that allows people to move away from the overwhelming effects of trauma and return to sanity and joy. It allows us to put aside very difficult situations until we are ready to work through them. When joy is intact, we can move more quickly and effectively from trauma to resolve.
Freisen et al. (2000) uses the metaphor of a mountain to describe how joy is in charge in the mind. Joy is the highest mountain. No other emotion mountain can get higher than our joy mountain. Joy regulates all the other emotions, and as God designed it, other emotions do not overtake joy. God’s joy is in charge. The other emotions (sadness, fear, anger, etc.) are in subjection to joy.
God made our brains to receive and hold joy. It would not seem right for us to miss feeling God’s joy just because as children or as young adults we did not receive it from our environments. God wants for us to have joy all the time as our main refuge. God designed us to be filled with joy, and He made our brains to do just that.
Scientists have located the joy area in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The brain is fully matured by ages 18-20 with all the cells and brain fluids that are required. Science now explains that the brain has great plasticity to change (which is the opposite of what it used to promote). We do not get more brain cells or dopamine, but we can change the neurological flow of synapses as we change our thoughts and behaviors. As our thoughts change and our behaviors follow, our brains heal and work as they were intended to work. As you meditate on godly things (Phil 4:8ff), pray, have friends and family who support joy, and practice it in your own relationships, you will increase joy in your life. What a wonderful God to give us this ability to have the joy center grow, no matter at what age we are!
2 Corinthians 7:4 Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf, I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.
Our hearts are our refuge, our place of strength. Our refuge is to be filled with joy. When filled with joy, we are strong in any affliction. As we are absolutely relentless in developing our joy relationship with God through Christ, we are filled with joy over and over. God is so glad to be with us in prayer, in meditation, in service, and we are so very glad to be with Him all the time. Everything else palls in the joy of this relationship. Nothing negative can overtake God’s joy.
People who are filled with joy are generally more resilient; they view problems as predictable and controllable because they know God will provide. They are also more tolerant and willing to work out difficult situations in a godly way and tend to focus on the solution and not the problem. Those filled with joy are very thankful to God on a more consistent basis. To live a Christ-like life, it is important for us to focus on having a heart of joy.
The list that follows presents a few ways to develop our joy center with God and others.
A. The foundation of joy is to build a closer relationship with God by reading and meditating on Scripture, praying, and fellowshipping with God’s joy-filled people
B. Sweep the “house” clean. Keep away from sin patterns.
C. Look at others in the eye and smile, having sincere affection and love for that person. Communicate with your body language, words, and tone of voice that you are GENUINELY glad to be with the other person.
D. Affirm others. Figure out what
blesses the other to help bring joy to that person. Maybe it is just a kind note, a short phone call, or a visit.
E. Receive bids for joy from others. Work at being mindful that you need to learn how to receive good things like joy. Don’t shy away from a smile, ignore eye contact, shrink from a kind touch, or reject kind words. (This is adapted from: Friesen, J. G., 2000.)
In diligently pursuing joy in our relationship with God, we are able to “let things go.” Everything else is not as important as it once seemed. The slights, the neglect, the evils done – they will not overtake the joy mountain and take no place of prominence in the mind anymore. God’s brilliant plan of JOY wins.
John 16:22 Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.
A God-given gift, joy is ours now and in the Kingdom. Fill yourself with being glad to be in God’s presence and receiving His joy of being with you.
Fieisen, J. G., Wilder, E. J., Bierling, A. M., Koepeke, R., Poole, M. (2010). The life model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you. Pasadena, CA: Shepherd's House.