Why are some folks afraid of joy?

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

It has taken me a long time to figure this out because it is so hard to believe, and I really didn’t want to come to this conclusion. But I’m afraid it is true: Some folks are scared of joy.

I guess we all know that some folks, for a variety of reasons, don’t seem to have much of it. And, we might as well admit it, some folks, for a variety of reasons, are pretty good at chasing away the joy of others. Remaining joyful after much time in their company is, to say the least, a challenge.

Folks who are joy-less or joy-deficient may not be “attractive” in most senses but they do certainly tend to attract others who are joy-less or joy-deficient. Misery really does love company and, for some twisted reason, enjoys mutual misery.

The patron saint of the joy-less should be a gal named Michal. To give you her story in a nutshell, I might just say that she was one of the daughters of King Saul, who became the wife of King David. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it might be instructive to note that when Saul found out that Michal was in love with David, the “rival” of whom he was insanely and murderously jealous, he was glad, the Bible tells us, because he thought, “She may be a snare to him.”

So what was wrong with Michal? Was she dour and sour, selfish and “high maintenance,” from early on? So much so that even her royal father had long thought, “Whoever gets hold of her will rue the day!”

Much later when David is reigning and the sacred Ark of the Covenant finally comes home to Jerusalem, the Scriptures tell us that David, the “man after God’s own heart,” danced before the Lord and the returning Ark “with all his might.” Michal, we’re told, looked at him from her window and “despised him.” In so doing, she despised his worship to the God of all joy. Cold and frosty through and through, Michal disdained David’s joy and, in the process, his God. The Bible says sadly, “She remained childless all her days.” Evidently she remained joyless all her days.

When the Psalmist writes, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” I think he’s implying that all true joy is God’s joy. Any “joy” we try to manufacture apart from God is counterfeit and fleeting.

Is it possible to really be close to God and not feel joy? I don’t see how. He is joy.

Why would opening ourselves up to God’s joy be frightening? Because it implies losing our right to hang onto anything that separates us from the source of joy. Bitterness, anger, resentment, pettiness, strife. There is no joy in letting such things define us. There can’t be.

In this wonderful season, we talk a lot about joy, and well we should. What is more full of joy than God coming near to us at Bethlehem? Let Michal’s children (Oh, she has some) snidely deride if they wish. Their punishment is self-inflicted. Just be sure you share the joy of the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, and the Lord.