The Joy Myth: The Hindrance to Personal Development
For those of you who attended Sunday School when you were children, let’s travel back in time. Picture yourself sitting in your seat surrounded by a room full of other small wiggling bodies. Scenes from Noah’s Ark are displayed on the walls in full color.As the teacher steps up to share the Bible lesson for the day, you either lean forward to catch a glimpse of the pictures that she holds, or you stare off into space and check out. Either way, your subconscious still files away what you hear only to shape them later into a belief system that will gauge the way you live your life.
Fast forward to mid-adulthood. You’re in crisis, unhappy, overworked, and stressed. What happened to the wiggling Sunday School kid that led to this fatigued and exhausted adult? Many life factors play into these changes, but this article wants to pull from the subconscious vault and pull out the file that says Cute Acronym.
I’m sure at one point in time, you heard of J.O.Y. – Jesus. Others. You. To have joy, we must put Jesus first and then the well-being of others before ourselves. If that’s the case, then why are there so many depressed pastors, counselors, teachers, first responders?
They make a living by pouring themselves into others. They should be bouncing off the walls high on joy caffeine! Although there’s truth in the J.O.Y. acronym, there’s also something false in this teaching. It’s not all that Biblical.
I’ve grown up in church and served in Christian ministry for seventeen years before moving into the non-profit sector and then onto coaching. I have lived by this acronym. Instead of living in joy, I lived in fear, anxiety, numbness, and disassociation. What went wrong? is a question I’ve asked myself a thousand times until I realized that I believed in a distorted version of joy. Let’s first dive into the many myths surrounding joy before we uncover the truth.
The more negative your self-image, the more spiritual you are. This may come from an incorrect interpretation of Romans 12:3 “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
This verse teaches that we are to have a realistic view of ourselves and the gifts that God gives to each one of us. We are not to think that we are better than others, rather, we are told to examine ourselves and our gifts to know how to use them in His service.
Believing that we are to live in false humility is where many go wrong. Some are afraid to accept a heart-felt thanks for a job well done. While others believe they need to be always aware of their weaknesses, so they don’t develop pride. Back in the 1200s, monks were known to self-flagellate with copper whips as a spiritual discipline.
Believing that negative self-talk is a sign of humility is just like whipping yourself with a copper whip. Your physical body may not be harmed, but your mental body bears the wounds. Labels such as “fat,” “ugly,” “worthless,” “trash,” “not good enough,” etc. are all whips that keep us living in pain instead of joy.
Don’t love yourself. When psychology began to advocate for self-love, especially at the expense of others, many denominations reacted rather than responded. To counteract the New Age view of self-love and mankind as divine, Christianity advocated that it was wrong to love yourself. They were right in one context.
To love yourself in a way that is selfish and harmful to others is wrong, but to love yourself in a way that is beneficial to others is Biblical. That message may not have been made clear in Sunday School and to our subconscious minds. The idea of self-care was met with eye rolls and frowns until years later when good Christians were burning out and the light bulb of understanding came on.
Don’t pray for yourself. I recently read a discipleship training booklet in which this idea permeated the page. It was suggested that the more you pray for others, the less you’ll be able to pray for yourself. I gasped with shock! We were to write our thoughts about each chapter for homework, and you can be sure I had plenty to say on this subject.
Why is praying for yourself seen as selfish? I love it when people pray for me, but they don’t know the nitty-gritty of myself like I do. Praying for yourself is not selfish! This idea is unbiblical and a robber of peace and joy.
Don’t pray about your needs, God is not Santa Clause. The only truth in this myth is that God is not Santa Clause! To neglect to pray for your needs is not a sign of humility but a sign of small faith. Those who live in small faith, see only small answers to prayer. Joy killer!
JOY: Jesus. Others. You. I’m not great at math so bear with me. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Most Americans work 8–12-hour days. We sleep or should sleep for 8-10 hours a night. Add these numbers up and we come up with 16-22 hours already claimed, leaving us with 2-8 hours a day that are ours.
But wait, there’s more! We need to have time with Jesus, then we need to spend time with our spouses, children, volunteering/serving, friends, and then…time’s up. The day is over! The only word we spelled was J.O. This is where many of us live – in the J.O. sphere. Because we don’t have the time to add the Y, we burn out. We become compassion-fatigued and depressed.
What is God saying about JOY? Although it’s not a word, I think the acronym might look more like this, JYO! Let’s debunk the myths:
The more positive your self-image is, the more spiritual you are.
Don’t get carried away with this. God wants us balanced. We’re not to think more highly of ourselves nor are we to think too lowly of ourselves. We are created in God’s image! Our gifts, creativity, emotions, IQ all originate from Him. And in the beginning, God saw his creation “as good.”
If you are a Christian, you are adopted into His family, chosen from the beginning of time. You are His precious treasure. When you accepted Christ, you were covered in His righteousness and are now seen as holy and pure. With this confidence in yourself, you will be able to see others the same way. This change of belief will help open the doors for unconditional love for your family, coworkers, and friends. There’s nothing selfish about seeing yourself this way.
Love yourself. Jesus mentions it several times: “…Love your neighbor as yourself…” (Mark 12:31). “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you…” (Matthew 7:12). We’re born with survival instinct. We want to be seen, heard, and valued. We want to be loved and accepted.
Jesus knew those are natural needs that most of us will fight for. He wants us to extend the same courtesy and the same expectations to others. Watching the fighting, dramas, and tug of wars that humans put themselves through makes me wonder whether if people loved themselves would all this fighting be necessary? When we harbor self-hatred, that same attitude is often extended to people in our sphere creating a world of hurt. To biblically love yourself is life-giving to others.
Pray for yourself. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7). Praying for ourselves is not selfish, it’s commanded! How can God show us his love and care if we don’t talk to him about our hurts?
Pray for your needs. One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. (Luke 18:1). The story is of a widow that persisted in her request for justice. Eventually, the judge grew tired of her and granted her request. Jesus wants us to ask repeatedly. Unlike the judge, He does not grow tired of our persistence. To him, prayer reveals our faith. As we know, faith moves mountains!
J.Y.O. – Jesus. You. Others. If you’ve been on a plane, you’ve received the instruction to put your oxygen mask on first before placing it on your child. Why? That seems selfish! Logically, you can’t save your child if you’re not breathing. How do we live a life of unselfish service to others? Put Jesus first.
Take time every day to praise him, talk to him, and learn from him. He’s the source of life. He’s the oxygen. Next, take time for yourself. Create a safe space in your home that will allow you to catch your breath. Take a little longer in the shower, treat yourself occasionally. Take a nap, take a class, go to counseling, set boundaries. Recognizing and meeting your needs is the mask. Now you’re ready to help others put their masks on.
Christian Counseling to Increase the Joy in Your Life
Serving Jesus and serving others does bring real joy, but let’s do it from a heart that’s breathing and at peace. If you’ve been living under the false J.O.Y. and struggling with compassion-fatigue and burnout, give me a call! Let’s get you back in service!
“Noah’s Ark”, Courtesy of Falco, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Burnout”, Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Broken Heart”, Courtesy of RODNAE Productions, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Praying Hands”, Courtesy of Doungtepro, Pixabay.com, CC0 License