How would you describe ‘joy’?  The Oxford dictionary defines joy as ‘a feeling of great pleasure and happiness’. I  [joyfully] recall a family trip to Disney when our kids were ages 6 and 4. Just seeing their joy gave us joy.  

However, happy experiences are fleeting. As the years go by the ‘joyful’ feeling has dimmed, but the happy memory remains. Like Mary, I treasure those moments and memories, and ponder them in my heart (Luke 2:19). 

There is ‘happiness’ and there is ‘joy’. They can co-exist, however, happiness is based on material things or events, such as when a person is given a gift, graduates from college, celebrates a birthday, or goes to Disney World. 

Joy, on the other hand, is from God and runs deeper — it can be present even during unhappy times. 

Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.

John Piper

Christian joy comes from God. 

It is not based on circumstances.  We can choose to have joy because of our hope in Christ.  Since kids are very receptive to their environment they pick up on our feelings and often mirror them. The best way to teach joy is to demonstrate it.  If God’s joy permeates your life, they will learn to be joyful through your example.

Benefits of joy for children

  • Decreases anxiety – Many kids experience reduced symptoms of anxiety by laughing and enjoying positive emotions.
  • Boosts learning ability – When exposed to too much stress, kids have a harder time learning and performing throughout their childhood and into adulthood. But, when exposed to joy (that is, to Christ), they can efficiently take in new information and develop a skill set that will help them later in life.
  • Encourages kids to try new things – Encourage them to get out of their comfort zone. The more they do, the more confidence they’ll have tackling larger obstacles in the future 

One way to help children experience joy is by creating family traditions.  Advent is a great time to create annual family traditions around lighting advent candles, talking about the joy and peace Jesus brings, and celebrating the birth of Jesus, etc. 

Other traditions could include having dinner together (no tv or electronics – just family time), having a family gratitude journal (so fun to review in the coming years!), and starting a happiness jar where family members can write down an experience that made them feel joyful and share them at the end of the week. Family game nights. Finding joy in togetherness and helping others.

Above all, it’s important to be consistent with church and spiritual formation attendance, Bible reading, and prayer – all the things that help children get to know the One who fills us with lasting joy! 

“Oh! May the God of great hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” 

Romans 15:13 (MSG)
  • Joy, a video by the BibleProject
  • Joy, by King and Country

May your family experience true Christian joy, permeating your souls, filling you with God’s love.

Peggy Kelly
Family Ministry Director
Community Congregational Church

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