Abiding Joy

What does it mean for Christ’s joy to be in you? Have you ever heard a child laugh with pure joy? Have you seen a child’s smile when they are filled with joy? Before I came here, I worked as a sort of therapist called a Registered Behavior Technician or RBT. RBTs are behavior analysis paraprofessionals certified by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. As an RBT, I worked with autistic children around the age of 3 to 5 years. In my work with them I witnessed moments where they had unalloyed joy. One of my clients, whom I like to think of as my little jumper, felt the purest joy when he was jumping.

You cannot imagine how bright his smile was with shining eyes and a full grin that filled his little face. He had other things that made him happy. He was particularly fond of spinning objects, but he only smiled when he was jumping. Another of my clients enjoyed making piles of objects in front of him—usually toys. This made him feel secure, but rarely resulted in a grin. One day I experienced him running on the trampoline and I discovered that if I ran the opposite direction as him he enjoyed it more.

Therapists at the center taught him to communicate using pictures on a Velcro belt. He would pull a picture off to let us know what he wanted. One day, as a part of his program, I had to choose a new action to teach him. I was reminded of how he liked to run in opposite directions. I realized I could give him a picture representing me spinning him around. It took less than a minute for him to figure out the new picture and he asked again and again and again maybe forty times in a row. His smile grew to fill his whole face. These two clients knew true joy. You too can find joy in the moment.

It’s easy to miss the pure joy of these children as a part of childhood that goes away when one experiences difficulty. That isn’t fair to them in particular. Nor is it fair to the kids at the center as a whole. These kids at a minimum faced a struggle with relating to other people due to autism. Unfortunately, some faced worse. There were kids in and out of foster care. There were kids whose parents had drug problems. There were kids who came in with suspicious bruises to the point that we had to call child protective services. What made the joy of these children extraordinary was the joy that they were able to have it in the moment. Adult struggles are not enough to keep us from joy just as the hardships these children faced did not keep them from joy.

One of the steps in teaching people using Behavioral Analysis is to select their reinforcers. Reinforcers are what they are given to make them more likely to repeat a behavior. My favorite method for finding reinforcers is what is known as free operant. Basically, you put one of the kids in a room full of fun toys and activities. Next, you watch and wait. Some things the child will pass by. Some things the kid will dwell on for a moment. What we are really looking for is what they highly desire. They are searching for joy.

It reminds me of a phrase from Marie Kondo. She invites her clients to hold objects and see if they “spark joy” as a way of choosing what to keep and what to discard. Joy is her path to simplicity. If something did not spark joy then one should consider discarding it.
My clients definitely knew what sparked joy for them and it was contagious. If you experienced the moment with them it was hard not to smile and even laugh. In giving in to joy we can share it with one another.

Another person I know who truly grasps joy is a man named Doug I met at the hospital. He was neither a patient nor someone who works there. Doug is known for his clothes as much as he is known for his piano playing. Doug has entire outfits of a single bright color. He has yellow, pink, blue, and red. He plays music to spread his joy and at the same time he loses himself in the music as he plays. He goes to a place of pure joy. Doug shares this joy by playing at the hospital, nursing homes, and retirement homes in town. At the hospital, Doug thinks of how his music will reach someone who is dying and bring them solace. If we work to share joy like Doug does then Christ’s joy is truly in us and we can bring it to others bearing fruit.

We can each find moments of joy in our lives. Find what truly matters to you. Find what moves you. This is Christ’s joy in you. Rejoice with those who are rejoicing and bear your joy to those who need it the most that Christ’s joy in you may be complete.


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