“The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself” (Proverbs 11:25).
IF IT’S JOY THAT WE DESIRE, WE OFTEN DEFEAT OURSELVES BY GOING AFTER IT IN THE WRONG WAY. We make it a self-centered pursuit having to do mainly with what we want to get — and we lose sight of the fact that the greatest joy is the joy of giving. The most joyful people in the world are those whose main intent is to foster joy in the lives of others as much as possible. They have great joy, but they’re hardly conscious of having sought it for themselves at all.
Most of us underestimate how great a capacity we have to bring joy to others. We don’t think we have anything to offer that would bring happiness, much less joy, to anybody else. But if we are Christians, we have great resources out of which we could give joy. There was probably nothing extraordinary about the Thessalonians, at least from a worldly standpoint, yet Paul was profuse in his praise for them. By their example of steadfastness in the face of hardship, they had greatly refreshed his heart and made it easier for him to endure his own afflictions. “For now we live,” he said, “if you stand fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8).
Joy is one of those things that we get more of by paying less attention to it. When we obsess about it and seek it self-consciously, it slips out of our grasp. But when we forget about it, and focus on the needs of those around us, we find it coming our way.
Real joy, though, can be a bittersweet experience. If it comes from making possible the joy of others, that will often require letting go and losing some things that are exceedingly precious to us. Think of Jesus, for example. If joy comes from making possible the joy of others, then His joy must have been a great joy indeed. Yet He could not have known that joy without the grief that went with the sacrifice. And so it is for us too. True joy can be very costly.
In the long run, however, it is true, as Solomon observed, that the “generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” C. S. Lewis said it differently, but no less truly, “Nothing that you have not given away will ever truly be your own.” Yes, that is a hard truth to accept. But it is still true.
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.
(John Greenleaf Whittier)