Pop quiz: what does the above acronym stand for? Jump Or Yell? Just Out Yesterday? Jerry Owns Yaks? As a teenager, I was taught this acronym meant: Jesus Others You. J.O.Y. was presented to me as a tool for living a joyful life. You simply had to put Jesus first, others second, and you third. Rather than helping me find joy, this tool led me to sharply scrutinize my every action, giving birth to self-criticism. Did this particular decision put Jesus first? Was my specific choice putting others before me? After struggling to find joy with J.O.Y., I left it behind, not giving it another thought.
For some reason, J.O.Y. floated to the surface of my consciousness as I started to reflect on what brings me joy as a pastor. Moments and experiences in ministry that bring me joy are rooted in Jesus, others, and me. I discovered J.O.Y. isn’t a tool to establish a hierarchy of priorities for joyful living. For me, it points to the key elements that mark true joy in my life and ministry.
As I think about what brings me joy in ministry, I celebrate J.O.Y. in the following:
- 2 AM Moments- It was the last night of a long, exhilarating week building houses in Tijuana, Mexico. With cautious steps and a timid expression, she approached us. “Um, the toilet it’s overflowing. And we don’t know what to do.” That is how two other adults and I found ourselves frantically searching through cabinets for anything to clean up the mess. Not a towel, much less a plunger were anywhere to be found. It was 2 AM and eventually all we could do was laugh hysterically. Since the toilet explosion of 2004, I have experienced many 2 AM moments. Moments where we put aside our expectations and drop our pretenses. Moments where all you can do is laugh or cry. In these moments, relationships are strengthened and community is created. They are moments my type A personality never plans, and never forgets.
- A Taught Teacher- Pastoral ministry provides plenty of opportunities for teaching. Whether it’s a Sunday school class, a small group Bible study, a parent seminar, or a youth leadership group, I love teaching. I’m used to being the one providing instruction. But I find the greatest joy when those I’m teaching teach me. Some of my most creative and well developed lesson plans have been trumped by a single question or thought. Learning from those I intended to teach refreshes, transforms, and ultimately makes me a better teacher.
- Youth and Their “In–Betweeness”- One minute they’re focusing all their energy on leading their team to victory in broomball, the next they’re asking questions that weren’t even on your radar when you were fifteen. Teenagers stand in a unique place between being a kid and being an adult, and I love walking through this place with them. I am constantly amazed as I watch youth plant deep roots of faith as they discover their identity in Christ. I am encouraged by their passion and hope, for the ways they fiercely pursue life because they haven’t had time to become cynical.
- Going Off the Script- As a Presbyterian, I know the value of doing things in church “decently and in order”. Although I must confess I love it when we get a little disheveled. It is delightful when the Spirit moves me to set aside my forms and formulas. When I concentrate on being faithful rather than precise, I am more open to the movement of the Spirit in me, and in others. When I loosen my grip on the liturgy I’ve spent hours to prepare, I often discover God calling me to creativity and freedom.
- Dirt Under My Nails- Typically, dirty fingernails drive me crazy. Typically, dirty fingernails are the companion of times of deep joy in ministry. My nails have gotten dirty putting tar down on a roof for an afternoon, painting the walls of a classroom, playing kickball for hours, cleaning up after serving a meal at a soup kitchen, and doing art projects during after school programs. As I’ve served alongside others whose nails have also gotten dirty, I’ve been refreshed and filled with hope. For me, our dirty nails are a sign of our participation in the kingdom work Jesus invites us to every day. Dirty nails point me to the abundant life Jesus promised, a life that can be raw and messy and beautiful.
Maybe today isn’t a joyful one for you in ministry. We have all walked alone in the wilderness. In the midst of your valley, think about J.O.Y. How is God providing refreshment and new life through Jesus, others, and you?