Joy: Even When They Don’t Reciprocate

Not every good thing we do comes back to us. But that doesn't have to limit our joy. {image credit: aquamila / 123RF Stock Photo}

Not every good thing we do comes back to us. But that doesn’t have to limit our joy. {image credit: aquamila / 123RF Stock Photo}

My friend posted this recently on Facebook:

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.” —Nina Potts-Jefferies

At first, I thought, “Yes. Good boundaries!” But the words didn’t settle inside. Instead, they swirled around, left me uneasy. I started internally arguing with the quote:

  • We don’t love our kids with everything we’ve got only when they make us a priority, do we?
  • We don’t give our best to those we serve at work or in the community only when they make us a priority, too.
  • And we don’t love our enemies at all, even if we are their target priority, unless we’re willing to love unequally. Right?

Is joy possible, even if they don’t reciprocate?

In my own joy-longing life, I love a daughter who may or may not ever press through her hurts and engage our family in healthy ways. While I may have to love her from a distance at some point, I will always love her beyond what’s emotionally safe. She is a child and someone needs to do this.

I love a husband who is smart, strategic… and also relationally limited by his ADHD. It’s tiring and can feel one-sided in the business of family and parenting. But his playfulness is a cool breath of air to this depression-tending girl’s heart.

There are seasons when dear friends become so busy or needy that it’s one-sided, too. I’ll make them a priority and, to them, will be an option. But I don’t care, because it’s not always like that.

And as I go down the list, trying to figure out whether I agree with this profound-sounding quote or not, it hits me. (Things are hitting me a lot lately).

Loving people when we feel called to do it — whether we’re their priority or not — builds joy.

It shows up as a sense of purpose, a sense of connectedness to a calling bigger than ourselves. It’s not happiness, that’s for sure. I’m not happy while managing my struggling daughter’s moods or difficult behaviors. I’m not happy when my husband’s job took every bit of attention he had for the day and I’m left to my own devices for the night with our kids.

But I am something else, if I let that in. I am loving the kids I asked God for. I am upholding my wedding vows and being a woman of integrity. I’m a whole heck of a lot stronger than I thought on that night I’m dying for my husband to get home and take over with the kids and I make it for the next 3 hours until their bedtime anyway.

Even if joy isn’t a feeling, it feels really good to be stronger than circumstances. To love people with more than we think we can. To step out of our comfort zones and realize that somehow we can be comforted there anyway.

Maybe that’s the dividing line between joy and happiness: One needs feelings, the other is stronger than that — the other uses its imagination and can see in the dark. And when the lights turn back on and people can love back and depression ebbs for a season, we see that something bigger than us has happened. That Someone bigger than us has not only kept us up and moving, but worked in the lives of people we care about.

Whether that’s what joy is or not, it seems like a very, very good thing.


Share the love. . .Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookEmail this to someonePin on PinterestPrint this page


  1. Shannon says

    Well said! My favorite part: “Even if joy isn’t a feeling, it feels really good to be stronger than circumstances.”