The Tenor of Joy

Recently I was at coffee with two close friends—those kindred spirit type of friends who jump quickly into real talk when we're together. We were talking about how dark 2015 has felt at certain moments. One of them commented how easy it is to conceal the shitty things that happen to all of us, the fear and loneliness that mingle with our victories and light. Instagram would look different if we posted these low moments—#thereal2015, anyone?


One of these friends gave me Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love. It's a slim little book and reading it feels like a loved one reminding you who you are when you've forgotten. A certain line clings to me like a burr: 

"...Light and darkness, hope and despair, love and fear are never very far from each other ... and spiritual freedom often requires a fierce spiritual battle."

2015 has been a battle, certainly. It's been a shift into a new and older way of looking at the world. Sometime this year I crossed a threshold—not a loss of innocence exactly, but a loss of expectation. I no longer expect happiness, or at least unbroken, sustained doses of it. I no longer feel entitled to consistent well-being. And this makes me all the more hungry for joy. 

Joy is a different animal than happiness entirely. It requires a fight against complacency, fear, despair. And it asks that we listen to the inner voice of love: God alive in us. The closest I've come to full joy and freedom this year, the kind of biblical freedom we're promised as people who walk with Jesus, is when I've ingested His love, unambiguous love, love "adamant as bone." Joy blooms when I fall hard on the freedom this love generates and the purpose it gives us to go and spend ourselves on others.


I am named after a song, sort of. I am named after my grandma, sort of. My first name is a twist on a name—Annalee—my parents heard in The Band's song "The Weight." Add an s, tweak the spelling, and you have Annelise. My middle name, Joy, is a nod to my grandmother Joyce.

If joy weren't already built into my identity in this way, I might want the word tattooed on me. That's how much I need reminding to keep fighting. That's how deeply I want joy: the elusive, hard-won creature that rests so closely against sorrow. It's not steady happiness and it's not found without a battle. But it's real and good and keeps us singing. Wishing you a 2016 marked by the tenor of joy.