But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
– Galatians 5:22-26
“If two men were asked whether they wished to serve as soldiers, one of them might reply that he would, and the other that he would not. However, if they were asked whether they wished to be happy, both of them would unhesitatingly say that they would. … Both men are wishing from no other motive than to be happy.
“Is it, perhaps, that one finds his joy in this and the other in that? Thus they agree in their wish for happiness, just as they would also, if asked, in wishing for joy. Is this joy, then, what they would call a happy life? Although one could choose his joy in this way and the other in that, all have one goal they strive to attain, namely, to have joy.
“This joy, then, is something that no one can say that he has not experienced. Therefore, it’s found in the memory and is recognized whenever the phrase ‘a happy life’ is heard.”
– St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (Book Ten, Probing the Depths of Self, Chapter 21)
When I read Augustine’s illustration of joy, I had to laugh. In the late 60s and early 70s, I would have chosen the desire of the second man, to not serve as a soldier. But then, I got a very low draft number in the military draft lottery and an Army ROTC scholarship in the same day. (Sometimes, God works like that, you know.)
I served in the Army, obtained the rank of Captain and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal at the end of only three years of service. I served four years before leaving active duty and continued to serve another three years in the Reserves, beyond my commitment.
My greatest joy in my working life was my last year and a half in Germany while serving in the Army. I accomplished so much and in a ridiculously short period of time. I loved what I was doing, but the Army likes for you to move to another situation.
In civilian life, I was asked in countless performance reviews if I liked what I was doing. I thought it the most bizarre question that I had ever heard in my life, yet every boss seemed to ask it. If they asked if I was satisfied? I could answer them. If they asked if I would like to have their job, I would have said yes, and if I was being honest, I would add that I could do a much better job of it. But they asked if I liked what I was doing.
For over forty years as an employee, I always enjoyed what I was doing, even if I hated it. That’s why I could never give them a straight answer. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It does not depend on circumstances. It depends on what is in the heart. So, for engineers with a master’s degree, I did a lot of jobs that most engineers with only a BS would never soil their hands doing, and I found Joy in doing it. Most engineers would never like to teach. Most Americans would hate to teach people from a third world country how to use the latest technology, but I did that.
I worked with one engineer who, when away from the customer, would say that no customer that he ever worked with had the intelligence to change a light bulb. He pointed out one country where we had been working. He told a story of returning to the hotel a little too early one day to see the kitchen staff washing the dinner dishes in the ditch next to the road while farm animals did their business ten feet away. He would say, “They are stupid beyond belief! They are not worth my time.” He was speaking more out of frustration. He wanted to feel clean after his shower at night, an impossibility in some locations, and watch a game of baseball on TV, with announcers speaking in English.
Yet, I loved working with those people and helping them learn. I took the time to learn their pastimes. I might not be able to play the sport, but I could converse with them, having learned the basics and who the stars in the sport were. I took time to understand them, their desires and their goals in life. And when the light bulb came on and they started telling me what they had learned, I beamed like a proud father when his son says his first words.
Augustine was trying to explain the source of Joy being the Lord Jesus Christ. He did so from a philosopher’s point of view, as Plato or Aristotle would have done it if they were Christians. One man becomes a soldier and is happy and joyful. Another finds joy in other pursuits. Therefore, what you do in life that gives you Joy has nothing to do with whether you like what you are doing. Okay, every boss that I ever had: Read that last sentence to get your answer. I actually told a few that very answer, and they replied that it was the most ridiculous thing they had ever heard.
In digging a ditch, making fenceposts out of an old tree using a metal wedge and a sledge hammer, ensuring underwater construction workers are working safely, or giving a lecture on failure analysis of nuclear reactor safety systems, you can show God’s love by having the Joy in your heart ooze from every pore in your body while you do it. (A challenge: Which of the four tasks in the previous sentence is something that I have done?) And oozing Joy is possible, even if you would rather be doing something else at the time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.