I’m an avid fan of standup comedy. I love thinking about how jokes are constructed, figuring out what makes things funny, seeing how comics grow over the spans of their careers, etc. Usually, I get obsessed with two or three comics at a time; I’ll try to get my hands on every project they’ve ever worked on, listen until I’ve had my fill, and then move on to the next two or three. This is really one of the best times in history to be a comedy fan, since so much content is available online.
One of my favorite comics right now is Pete Holmes. He’s a whip-smart yet self-deprecating kind of guy, a guy who knows that he looks and talks more like a nondenominational youth pastor than a comic. His past is in the evangelical Christian world, and though he doesn’t really fit in there anymore, he still considers himself “spiritual” and draws heavily from his Christian background. Though he’s not a theologian by any means, every now and again he says something that makes me stop in my tracks. They’re not always new ideas, or even terribly profound ones, but I find that listening to standup takes me into a different headspace than the one I normally inhabit. And since my “theological guard” isn’t on high alert like it usually is, I’m not as dismissive of things that sound different from what I’m used to hearing in a church environment.
In his newest special, Faces and Sounds, Holmes goes off on a tangent about “happy checks;” we’re all here, he says, to cash happy checks, to seek out that which brings us joy. While the Epicurean premise here isn’t necessarily all that great, his conclusion is: we need to train our brains to find happiness in what we’re doing, not in what we wish we were doing. Stop yearning for something extraordinary, and find joy in the every day.
That’s a Scriptural idea, folks. Over and over again, the Bible tells us that joy is a choice: Paul tells the church at Thessalonica to “be joyful always;” the psalms constantly call us to rejoice in the Lord; and James says that we should even find joy in all the trials and crises we face in life. Henri Nouwen reminds us of this, too:
"Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.”
It’s a hard lesson to learn, to be sure, but it’s one we all need to reminded of every now and again. Joy is not elusive. It is not something that needs to be chased, because the One who gives us joy is not running away from us. He is always coming towards us, wiping the tears from our eyes and welcoming us into his everlasting joy. Every moment, every second is an invitation to take hold of joy.
It won’t always feel like happiness. We may not find ourselves having a “spiritual high.” Often, joy is merely a comforting word, a reminder that there is nothing God cannot redeem or restore. It does not only come after sorrow, but also in the midst of it. We can choose joy. We can “choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise.” And God keeps his promises.