“Son, did you ever experience real joy in your lifetime here?” – Braden’s Dad
“Dad, I occasionally felt happy when something good happened, but it never lasted. I’m glad I had a relationship with Jesus. I now live in eternal joy.” – Braden
Meet my identical twin brother, Mike. If you can tell which one he is, you’re better than me. It took me a long time to decide I’m the one on the left… I think.
“The twins”. That’s what we were called throughout our childhood years by many, including our parents, friends, and relatives. Our dad loved us like crazy but still liked to tease. We looked so much alike that he’d kid us by saying, “Hey, where’s your ugly brother?” Thank goodness we didn’t have thin skin!
Growing up together, Mike and I were best friends and the worst of enemies. We fought against each other at home and defended each other in the world. Mike would die for me and I for him. There were also occasions we wanted to kill each other. Our twin brother stories would fill volumes. Maybe I’ll write that book someday. There’ll be a special chapter just about dressing the same and getting the same gifts. What’s the deal with that?
Being a twin is a unique blessing, especially when your brother is an exact mirror image of yourself. When you finish each other’s sentences or can share a memory that you only recall partially but he can complete it, that’s very rare. According to biology, we were literally “identical”. At least that’s what I thought until just a few years ago.
All my life I believed since we looked, talked, walked, and thought alike we must be identical. After all, our relatives often jokingly called us “Mi-ark” to hedge their guess when they couldn’t tell us apart. We traded classes and even once swapped dates as a prank to see if we could get away with it. One of us did, and it wasn’t me. When the concept of personalized license plates started, I ordered “2-Alike” for my 1976 Cutlass Supreme. Is there any better evidence of “twin-ness”?
Years later, someone asked, “Are you guys identical?” As always, I proudly responded, “Yes”. But our mother interjected, “No, Mark. You boys were born in different birth sacks. That technically makes you ‘fraternal'”. She had to have her facts wrong. Mike and I were just too close with too many similarities.
I have to admit, losing our uniqueness in being identical twins was a bummer. After all, that had always been our identity… until that moment of truth.
An interesting aside: Some months ago our pastor at Hope Fellowship spoke on the topic of joy and happiness. He talked about how much they might look alike but in reality, are very different. I’d always just assumed the two were synonyms.
More on this in a moment.
We recently became friends with a family who has shared our tragic experience. They lost their son only a few months after Braden. Their boy was often the life of the party at social events. He was outgoing, successful in sports and most anything at which he tried his hand. Yet, as so many youth do today, he still considered himself alone and missing something.
One night after leaving a college party, he called his mom and dad in desperation. He couldn’t take life any longer. There was not one single person he could say he felt intimately close with. Even in a crowd, he felt empty. Alone.
How can that even be possible? From his father’s account, this young man seemed happy. He was always with others, interacting, and laughing. Yet, still he was depressed to the point he didn’t want to continue living. Before his parents could get to him, sadly their son had taken his own life.
Their story is far too common today and lands very close to home. Many details these parents shared have reminded us of our own experience. These young men might have been very different in personality and in social settings, but they both shared a lack in the same thing over which they were both willing to end their lives: A lack of lasting and true joy.
Returning to Pastor John’s sermon: Happiness versus joy. The two descriptors initially appear to be identical. However, I’ve come to the conclusion they’re vastly different.
Happiness is an involuntary and temporary feeling. It’s very much in the moment. Be it a piece of good news or a humorous joke, happiness can last a minute, an hour, or even a season. However, it’s always fleeting.
In contrast, joy is a conscious choice and if practiced can become a permanent characteristic. Joy rises above the moment and the seasons. It thrives even in the midst of darkness, anxiety, fear, and grief. Joy can exist when all evidence would indicate the person should feel in misery and desolation.
The pastor went on to say that lasting and eternal joy comes only from having a personal relationship with our Creator through Jesus. You can lease happiness for a brief time, but you can’t buy joy. It’s totally free of cost if we simply choose it. Suddenly, it dawned on me the differences between happiness and joy are as large as the Grand Canyon.
In learning more about our friends’ son and knowing ours well, I’ve come to the conclusion that both young men were actually happy at times. Some days more than others. What they held in common was the missing piece that helps us go on when all seems hopeless. Their missing piece was missing peace in something called true joy.
I can’t speak for our friends’ son. Although I’m confident Braden had a personal relationship with Jesus, I’m not convinced he chose joy in the very darkest moments of his life. We believe he was being barraged in a spiritual battle for having maintained hope for so long. You see, Satan hates joyous people and will go to any length to ensure it gets zapped by this world.
Looking back, I’m not so sure I did a good job in modeling joy as defined here to our son. To him, the way I lived my life and how the world looked to him appeared too much alike to be a reason to choose his joy. In our trials of life, did I personally choose joy or was I just blending in and coasting along, satisfied just being happy in the moment?
I’ve been encouraged to not live in the past by continually questioning the “what ifs”. We are to move forward, learning from yesterday’s mistakes, even when today many of them continue to look too much the same.
Today, as we stayed home from church with a sick Caitlin, we watched the live stream of the Sunday message from Hope Fellowship. As they baptized several members, the worship team sang a song I’ve always loved and felt compelled to include the lyrics today. May the words remind readers and those in dark places there is a real reason we should choose joy in Christ.
Prayer for readers
Lord, let us grasp the difference and help us choose joy in knowing You over temporary happiness. The latter is empty and worthless. The former is eternal and a valuable treasure. Amen
Who You Say I Am ~ Hillsong Worship
Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me?
I was lost but He brought me in.
His love for me Who the Son sets free, is free indeed.
I’m a child of God!
Yes I am Free at last, He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep.
While I was a slave to sin,
Jesus died for ME!
I am chosen,
I am who You say I am.
You are for me,
Not against me.
I am who You say I am.
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for ME.
I’m a child of God, yes I am!