But it's awfully hard to be joyful all the time, much less an entire liturgical season. Thankfully, the candle is only for the last half of the Advent wreath. Nonetheless, at this time of year, the streets are filled with cars heading to malls, people stand in shopping queues that will last seemingly for hours, and the gift item you were looking for can't be found anywhere. I do almost all my gift shopping online precisely to avoid these problems.
And for this, I'm supposed to have some creepy smile of joy that doesn't often feel sincere?
Joy isn't even what we think it is. Joy is internal. All the back-slapping, laughing, carousing, and joking we think of joy is on the outside. It's the outward manifestation of something going on inside. Like all things on the surface, that external happiness can be spackled on with a trowel and made to brighten our facade. It can easily mask cracks and pains that we want to hide.
I admit, I'm usually the optimist. I'm not content to say the glass is always half full; I would rather drink what's in that glass and ask for another. But you can't make someone joyful or optimistic. Joy comes from within. And sometimes, you hit a granite slab and that well runs dry. Even the very act of smiling can be painful.
I was with the same person for eighteen years. For a long time, we were happy and gay. Not carefree, because the young have a lot of worries regarding money, but somehow it didn't seem so bad. When the relationship began to fray, I became confused and depressed. Oh yes, I put on a smile as was expected. But I wasn't happy, and I certainly wasn't content.
When it all came crashing down and the relationship ended, there was no faking it. I couldn't smile. I had no joy to tap into to bring those smiles out. I took a sabbatical from choir because literally every hymn made me cry. I didn't cry out of sadness for me or for others.
I cried because I had no joy welling inside of me, and music is, at its heart, powered by that joy. When asked, I would explain that I felt as though the Holy Spirit forgot who I was and left me a vacant sack of memories.
That season of Christmas and Easter was awful. I had no strength to fake a grin. Sure I'd laugh with others, but it made a hollow sound, a tinny chuckle heard as though laughing into an empty can. It took time - a slow, painful journey of personal reconciliation and reflection - to find that the love of God was inside me still. It was obscured by my pain, by my guilt, by my self-flagellation. I needed to wait out this game of hide and seek and let that love once again walk into the light.
There's no magic way to bring joy back into your dark spaces. I wasn't a Grinch with a heart ten sizes too small, waiting for the Whoos to sing around a wrecked tree. And when I see people today with sad, empty eyes, I don't try to cheer them up or force them to feel happy.
I just hug them. Or e-hug them. Or smile with them. And most of all, I listen to them.
And together, maybe, just maybe, we'll eventually hear a little sound of joy. Maybe, just maybe, we can light that third candle and let a little light shine out through the darkness of winter.