The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

Every year on our 2.5-acre bit of country paradise, my husband planted a garden big enough to feed a small Third World nation. Once the seeds were in the ground, he turned the care and feeding of the plants over to me from germination to harvest. He would occasionally run the tiller down the rows, but between the plants, the hoeing was all mine. So, in the early morning hours while our babies were still asleep, before the summer sun heated to its full fury, I would slip on my old shoes, grab the hoe, and go out to the vegetable garden for a tete-ˆ-tete with the weeds.

As I chopped out the Canadian thistles and tangled wild morning glory vines, I couldn’t help but marvel over the divine bit of enchantment that transformed an insignificant kernel of corn into little green ribbons of leaves. . . and then into fully mature stalks complete with tassels, silk, ears, and edible kernels. Tomatoes, green beans, and pepper were also marvels, but zucchini truly amazed me. Almost before my very eyes, I could see it bloom, produce fruit, and mature into overgrown seedpods.

Most vegetables did well in our waxy clay soil, but certain ones-like melons or root crops such as carrots, and eggplant-required special tending to come to fruition. The wild rabbits loved tender eggplant seedlings, and unless I chained a hungry Doberman to the plants, the bunnies ate them down to the quick. Melons and root crops require sandy, lose soil, and although we could get them to grow, we didn’t reap a particularly satisfactory crop unless I especially prepared planting spots for them by spading in fertilizer, sand, and peat. Then they did fine.

Joy, one of the fruits of the Spirit, is a little like my garden. Its growth in our lives is miraculous and amazing—but it won’t grow automatically; it needs particular growing conditions if it is to bloom and bear fruit.

Other aspects of my garden remind me of joy as well.

While some people are just naturally happy and easily derive satisfaction from the little things in life, God-grown joy is as different from happiness as gourds are from squash. Happiness may bear a cursory resemblance to joy, but that’s as far as it goes.

Gourds are not nourishing, and in some cases, they’re even poisonous. You can make a few useful items out of them, but they are mostly decorative. Happiness is like that. It looks good; it has its sphere of usefulness; but its value is limited.

Squash, on the other hand, keeps well and is a terrific source of vitamins. You can eat it raw, baked in the shell, or make all manner of healthy foods out of it from desserts to main courses. That is very much the case with joy, for it endures and nourishes us. As I said, at first glance, it may look a lot like happiness, but unlike happiness, joy has wonderful sustaining power for the human soul.

So how do we cultivate true joy in our lives? Well, actually, it’s not something we can produce by ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Instead, anywhere the Spirit of God dwells, joy will automatically be the result.

The Holy Spirit chops out the weeds and breaks up the hardened clay in our hearts, sifting in better qualities so that joy and the other spiritual fruit will find hospitable growing conditions. Often times—very often—He uses troubles and trials like hoes to hew out the weeds of bad habits, to break up the hardened soil of selfishness to make a spot for joy to flourish. Sometimes it takes a long time for joy to appear in a certain area of life. Other times, it springs up overnight and bears fruit all at once (like my zucchini plants).

But wherever the Spirit of God is, joy will result, and it is a useful, delicious, and eternal fruit-well worth our pain and well worth the labor of the Master Gardener.

There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other.