Jesus prays that God will protect them. Jesus prays that they may be united as one. Jesus prays that they can go forth into the world, sanctified by God’s Holy Spirit and equipped to do the work that God gives them to do.
But the part of the prayer that particularly strikes me is this: Jesus asks God that his followers might “have my joy made complete in themselves.”
Jesus prays that his followers—the disciples who were with him, but also every follower ever since, including us—Jesus prays that we will have his holy joy in us. That is worth holding in our heads and in our hearts.
Not only that, somehow we are part of Christ’s own joy. Christ’s joy is a work in progress, and that work is going on in our lives right now. That is quite a thought!
I like to think that most of us have felt that holy joy sometimes.
I am not talking about superficial happiness. I am not talking about how you feel when you take a first bite of ice cream. Ice cream is great. But holy joy is deeper and more profound than the pleasure I take in ice cream. Holy joy touches us at the core of our beings.
Maybe you experienced holy joy during a hymn or song that particularly moved you. Maybe it was watching a beautiful sunset. Maybe it was being with someone you love. Maybe it was acting in a truly generous way. Maybe it was just a gift straight from God, without any other obvious cause.
For whatever reason, for a moment everything is right. God is present with us, and God is present to us.
At the time, we may not recognize those moments as Christ’s joy filling us. But whenever we are at our very best, whenever we experience and act in genuine love, whenever we feel deep gratitude for all the gifts in our lives, in those moments, Christ’s joy is in us, and Christ’s joy is being made complete in us.
Take a few minutes this week to remember some of those times, and give thanks to God for them. They are a wonderful gift.
But for now, let us shift to the other times, the vast majority of our lives, when things may be good and they may be less good, but either way we are not feeling that kind of holy joy.
Most of the time, Christ joy is pretty incomplete in us. Only the great saints are continuously aware of Christ’s presence in their lives, and so only the great saints can feel the joy of Christ all the time. Most of us glimpse that joy, but we do not live in that joy, at least not all the time.
So what keeps Christ’s prayer from coming true in us? What keeps us from experiencing the joy that is Christ’s will for us?
For many of us, a first obstacle is failure of imagination. Imagining what might give us true joy is surprisingly hard. Most of us do not really know what a truly joyful life would look like for us.
At the conference I went to last week, we did an interesting exercise. We began by taking two minutes to write down on a little notecard what we want. For most of us, a few things came easily.
But, at least for me, the list was pretty unsatisfying. My wants were mostly about things going on in my life right now. Nothing on my list really touched my heart. Nothing on my list would give me holy joy.
In the next part of the exercise, we took another two minutes, this time to sit in silence. We were told to listen for God.
That, too, is hard. But listening for God is the best way to fire up our imagination, to discover our deepest longings, to experience Christ’s joy in us. We can only experience true and sustained joy if our wants align with God’s call.
Imagining our deep wants and hearing God’s call take patient discernment.
But even discernment is only a means to an end. The real trick is living: living a life true to who we are and who we are called to be; living a life aimed at meeting our deepest wants; living a life faithful to God’s call; living a life of authentic joy, the joy of Christ being made complete in us.
The problem is, so many things distract us from what really matters. So many things throw us off course. So many things stand in the way of our deepest desires, of answering God’s call.
And there is no getting around the obstacles. Obstacles are always present for all of us. There are always things beyond our control, people who will not do right, problems we cannot solve. We cannot make the obstacles go away.
But we can live with them gracefully.
In a book called Becoming Your Best, the author says that when things are not good, we naturally look outward. We focus on what is wrong in the world, or in our lives, or in the people around us. We wish that whatever is wrong out there would change.
But mostly it doesn’t. We cannot change other people. We cannot change the world we live in, not in any really fundamental way.
I know. I have been trying to fix Carrie for years! With considerably more justification, she has been trying to fix me. Neither of us has been very successful.
When we focus on problems out there, problems in other people, problems in situations that we cannot control, we are doomed to disappointment and frustration. When we focus on problems out there, we do not discover our deepest desires, we do not hear God’s call, and we probably do not experience Christ’s joy made complete in us.
What my book suggests is that we work on ourselves instead. In a difficult situation or relationship, we should stop asking ourselves, what is wrong out there?
Instead, we should ask ourselves, what kind of person do I want to be in this situation or in this relationship? What are my goals for myself? What kind of life do I want to live in this moment, with this person, with these challenges? Who is God calling me to be right now?
I can’t fix Carrie. That is her job. I can’t fix my children or my parents or the challenges in my life, or most other things.
But, with God’s help, I can fix myself, at least a little. I can work on being the kind of person God calls me to be in relationship with Carrie, and my children, and my parents, and the challenges in my life. That is all any of us can do.
But it is enough.
And if we make some progress, if we take a few steps towards being the people that God calls us to be, then we will discover our deepest longings. Then we will experience a little more of Christ’s joy in us.
And then we can pray, with confidence and hope, for the day when Christ’s joy will truly be made complete in us.
May that day come. In the name of the Christ who offers us true joy. Amen.