We singles spend a lot of effort and money trying to create joy in our lives, but the best we can do is to generate happiness, and even that is fleeting at best.
As usual, we're trying to play god and do something only he can do. If we thought about it, we'd realize we're going at it all wrong.
I don't make this statement as a know-it-all, but as a person who wasted years trying to do something far beyond my abilities. Instead of struggling to make things happen, I should have simply received what was available all along.
Let me explain.
As a single person, I long assumed that the emptiness I felt in my life was because I didn't have a spouse. I can't take all the blame for that, though. It's something our society beats into our heads all the time.
Every Valentine's Day, we're given the strong impression that if we don't have a spouse or significant other, there's something wrong with us. And, if you listen to Christian radio every day, as I do, you hear all kinds of programs about "the family."
I have never heard a Christian radio or TV program aimed exclusively at singles.
So I, like many singles, pursued getting married. I believed I couldn't have "joy" in my life unless I was half of a couple. Well, when marriage didn't happen, I did some very serious thinking, Bible study, and praying.
I realized I had been on the wrong track all along, and I hope you're young so you can benefit early on from what I found out.
First, I didn't understand the difference between joy and happiness. I could work up some happiness, through relationships, through my writing, and even when I got a new car or other big material possession.
But that happiness always faded. When a relationship ended, I was devastated, a natural and understandable human reaction. After a while the "glow" dimmed from every writing achievement. And material possessions? Well, the newness and fascination always fizzled out on those things, too.
Even so, I still didn't get it. I kept trying to create joy but failed every time. I wanted happiness that would last, a permanent good feeling that would override all the negatives in my life. I did all the things the commercials and gurus said to do, yet I still felt that hole in my heart.
Here's the odd part. All along, I was going to church every Sunday and reading my Bible every day, yet I still couldn't figure it out. That's how thick I was.
It took a tragedy to put me on the right path. My Dad, one of the three people I loved most in the world, died of cancer in 1995, at the age of 71. I was 44 years old at the time.
I was crushed. For two years I stumbled through life, doing what was required of me but little more. I wanted answers. More than anything else, I wanted to climb out of my depression and have some real joy in my life.
It was not a coincidence that I turned to God for those answers. He was gently leading me. I began to practice contemplative prayer, a kind of Christian meditation. Every day, for 12 years, I completely shut out the world around me and spent some time alone with God.
Gently, gradually, the Holy Spirit worked his amazing healing in my life. The emptiness I had always thought only a spouse could fill was filled, instead, by God. As Pascal said, God had made that hole in my heart in a shape that only he could fill. He filled it perfectly. I began to know joy.
If you do a quick word search in the Bible, you'll discover something amazing. In the New International Version, the word "happiness" appears only six times in both the Old and New Testaments. But the word "joy" is found 218 times, and nearly every occurrence has to do with God.
We singles are looking for lasting contentment--joy. We want a sense of fulfillment and rightness that holds up no matter what the circumstances are in our life. Whether we get married or not, we each want to have a life that's meaningful. We want to know joy.
Joy--true joy--is not an emotion that comes and goes. It's an indestructible gift that holds up no matter what life throws at us.
Only God can create joy.
It took me most of my life to learn that. Now the joy I know from God's love for me is an undercurrent in my life, no matter what my emotions are doing. It's a reliable constant. My joy can't be destroyed because it's based on the Rock, Jesus Christ.
You don't have to do contemplative prayer for 12 years, like I did. You can't create joy in your life, but you can have it. Ask God. Love God. Trust God. Surrender yourself to him and ask him to fill the hole in your heart as only he can--with joy.
His joy is waiting for you. You don't have to work for it or earn it. He wants to give it to you, and all you have to do is receive it.
"Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24, NIV)