There is so much in those three little letters. For people outside of evangelical Christianity, it is a word that means intrinsic happiness. Here, I’ll copy and paste the Merriam Webster’s definition:
- 1a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety
- 2: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
- 3: a source or cause of delight.
For me, those three little letters bound and controlled me. For all of you reading this that have suffered at the hands of teachers and youth leaders with this acronym, you are already tensing up. J.O.Y. in the hands of conservative Christians means this: Jesus, Others, You.
I can see all of you uninvolved people scratching your heads. Let me unpack the pain of this philosophy. As a small child in Christian school, I was taught this acronym as being the secret to the true feeling of joy. I could have real and lasting joy if I put Jesus very first in my life. Now, what this looked like was constant Bible reading, constant praying, and unquestioning allegiance to the church and its leadership. I think you can spot the main difficulty there. As a small child, reading the King James was really difficult. Now, they said that the King James was the God approved version and the Holy Spirit would help me understand the words. (He never did, by the way. I didn’t understand the majority that stuff until an NIV was placed in my hands as a teen. Even then, what I thought I understood was terrible, but that is a different blog for a different day.) The Bible reading obviously had very little impact on me for a very long time. Next up was the constant praying thing. Well, I have ADHD and Autism. Focusing my mind on a person whose words I could not understand and whom I could not see, was just not possible. When a grown up prayed, it sounded like this: “OH! Thou great KING OF ALL! We humbly prostrate ourselves in front of Thine Eternal Throne! We bring to Thee our needs and requests because thou in thine kindness and love have commanded us to bring them thus. We shall ask in all obedience and humility that thou wouldst hear our supplications and ………..” Well, but now I was soundly asleep and absolutely could not understand what the goodness gravy was being said. Neither could I even begin to speak like that. So, prayer was out. That left me unquestioning allegiance to the church and its leadership. I had no other choice. The J part was outward conforming and obedience to that which did not have my best interests in mind nor could I really understand. This did untold damage to my mind and was in essence programming. I wanted that JOY and if I had to do what horrible, abusive teachers and pastors said, then I had to have JOY!! It was needed. Right?
Next is the “others” part of our awful acronym. I was told that after I made Jesus the top priority of every part of my life, I should then consider every other person’s needs before my own. This is great for leadership because the church needs free labor….erm… volunteers to keep the corporation….erm….ministry running smoothly. So, members who came looking to being emotionally fed are now being told that they should really look to serving others. Free Daycare….erm…nursery for services, free janitorial to cut down on costs, free catering…erm… food ministry, free gig work from musicians (Although, I have noticed in the music side of things the church gets what it pays for, in general.), free event planning, free anything the church leadership needs in the name of giving their members the things they need to be cared for. Did you spot the difficulty here?! The people who are supposed to receive the help are the ones giving the help. In small group, I personally poured out all I had for everyone in need in the group. I made food, gave money to help cover needs, bought groceries for, had people over for dinner, treated people to countless lunches and coffees, GLADLY and STILL DO. However, the problem was that when I fell into need, no one was there. They had disappeared completely and when I asked, I was seen as whiny. I learned that I was to pour everything I had out to everyone else, only to receive nothing in return when I needed to be the other in their JOY. I do not mind not getting anything in return, I still give but now I firmly know in my heart there will absolutely not be anything in return from the vast majority regardless of what they were taught about JOY.
After you ran around pleasing Jesus and meeting everyone else’s needs, to your detriment, whatever you might have left over of your personal resources you could then apply to you. Oddly enough Jesus and the Others were never there to help you along. This leaves empty people, with no idea who they are, looking to religion for identity, peace, and getting needs met. If they do not feel real joy after following the false rules of JOY, they must be somehow to blame. It isn’t because they flew in the face of established, proven psychological thought that states, “The key to helping a person be successful and able to help others is helping the person in question to love him or herself.” So in typical and literally crazy making fashion, the church tries to convince people that psychology, that has been proven in case study after case study after case study up to the hundreds of thousands, is wrong. They need to find their purpose and identity in denying themselves and living out JOY. They are literally to lay aside their genetically given personality and identity and take on the identity of the religion. It is all about looking to the religion for forming an identity rather than learning how the world works. The crushing reality is that their own identity was already inside of them and not deficient. Churches first convince you your identity is broken and that you must align it to what they believe in order to matter and not be broken. What you get is a group of people with no idea who they really are looking to narcissistic leaders telling them how to be regardless of whether or not this will damage them in the long run.
If you are recovering from this high level of manipulative programming all I can say is LOVE YOURSELF. You are not deficient. You are not sinful. You are good. If you are in a group of people claiming the opposites of those truths, you may want to consider yourself a victim of church abuse.