The Quest for Joy


This article was adapted from an address delivered at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on June 6, 2004, while the author’s husband was serving in the MTC mission presidency. Though its message applies specifically to those who are either serving or preparing to serve as missionaries, it may provide all readers with valuable insights into obtaining joy in everyday living, especially as they seek to share the gospel’s glad tidings with others.

Enoch saw in vision the wickedness of our day and was brought to tears. Then the Lord told him He would cause truth and righteousness “to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth” (Moses 7:62). My husband, Dan, serves as a counselor in the mission presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center, and every Wednesday we see a wave of that flood as 300 to 500 missionaries begin their service. They are clean, happy, and strong, eager to get to those four quarters, to one of 337 missions in 165 countries. When Enoch saw the end result of this flood—the redemption of the righteous—he received a fulness of joy (see Moses 7:67). At the MTC it is impossible not to feel joy in the presence of these elders and sisters. Lehi said, “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). Missionaries are, that they might share joy.

Choosing Joy and Sorrow

The quest for joy in mortality began with Adam and Eve. They chose sorrow and death so they could also choose joy and exaltation. Eve said to Adam, “Were it not for our transgression we … never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11). Our Savior’s Atonement was a choice for joy. Not long after Gethsemane He gathered the little children on the American continent around Him, blessed them, prayed for them, and invited angels to encircle them. Observing the faith of the people, He said, “My joy is full” (3 Ne. 17:20). He had come from the ultimate agony in Jerusalem to a fulness of joy in the Americas. We will never know His agony, but He chose to accomplish the Atonement so we could eventually experience a fulness of joy.

Joy is an emotion of the spirit. It comes through righteous living. It is not a casual or shallow feeling, ever. If we equate fun and pleasure with happiness, we may think pain must always be equated with unhappiness. But that is not true. Joy is not a stranger to pain. We may not feel deeply enough to know joy unless our hearts have been hollowed out by sorrow. A heart may not be big enough to know real joy until it has been stretched and pulled by trials and hard things. In 2 Nephi 2:23 [2 Ne. 2:23] we find this phrase: “having no joy, for they knew no misery.” Our capacity to feel joy actually increases as we righteously endure our pain.

As missionaries go out to serve, they taste the same mixture of emotions almost every day. The deeper their joy in the message and the more intense their desire to share it, the greater their sorrow when it is rejected. Often when the scriptures talk about joy and sorrow, they are referring to missionary work. In Alma 28:8 we read, “And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy.” These four terms often describe a mission: sufferings, sorrows, afflictions, and incomprehensible joy.

If a missionary has had a largely pain-free existence to this point, perhaps the experience of deep joy still lies ahead. One missionary who described premission life as being pretty easy told about teaching a discussion in which the whole family, especially the father, was very responsive. Afterward, as he and his companion pedaled their bicycles toward their apartment, he thought: “So this is what joy feels like. I guess I’ve never known until now.”

What Joy Is and What It Is Not

Joy is learning to “make friends with mortality.” That’s a phrase my sister taught me long ago to help me endure when cars break down and bills pile up. She was trying to help me make the best of a telestial world, much as an aunt of President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) did many years ago in Whitney, Idaho. Seeds were scarce, and she had just finished planting her peas when she looked out the kitchen window to see a rooster going down the row, scratching out her peas, and eating them. She ran outside, grabbed him, chopped off his head, opened him up, took out her peas, replanted them, and cooked him for supper.

Making friends with mission mortality means accepting slammed doors and canceled appointments, the blazing sun or freezing cold. You just smile and say, “This is a mission.” Your heart won’t let you quit or even slow down. You think of President Hinckley, who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and try to stay as positive as he is.

Missionaries may not wake up each morning bursting with joy, but they are out the door on time anyway. “Hard” isn’t negative when you are a missionary. Why? Because when your feet hurt and you’re really hungry and the dogs are especially vicious and you are surprised to discover that you are happy anyway, you accept that gift of joy as a blessing from your Heavenly Father, thanking you for doing His work.

Missionaries choose effort over ease. They choose the sorrow of rejection without losing the hope of bringing people to Christ. Serving a mission is a choice, and every elder and sister can choose to make that mission glorious.

Joy is not about having things. Not focusing on money, earning it or spending it, is one of the blessings of a mission. The things of God replace the things of the world. Discovering that having “things” has little to do with having happiness can be a lifelong mission blessing. Some have more worldly possessions, some have fewer, and it doesn’t matter. Missionaries who ask their parents not to send extra money, who want to live on what their leaders say is adequate, have the best missions.

Joy is not about being in the limelight. It is about changing lives, one at a time. When my husband was president of the New Jersey Morristown Mission, a struggling elder confided in me. He wanted so much to be a good missionary—some of the time. The rest of the time he was just homesick and discouraged. He was up and down, up and down. Reading was a challenge; he could not seem to learn the discussions. Solid Elder Brown, * with only two months left to serve, was made his companion. I was concerned that this might mean a difficult and disappointing conclusion to Elder Brown’s mission. But on his last night as a missionary, he wept in gratitude for those two months. We soon learned, not from him, that a miracle had occurred. The two missionaries had read the entire Book of Mormon together. Our struggling elder could now teach the first two discussions, and he never talked about going home again. When they came to see us after our mission was over, they came together. Missionaries can strengthen and be strengthened by every companion.

The great thieves of joy are envy (why can’t I be like you?) and pride (why can’t you be like me?). A measuring tape is not on the list of missionary supplies. Comparing is measuring, and it destroys joy. And to mock another’s weaknesses cannot be acceptable to the Lord.

Joy is not about looks or personality or a fluent tongue. It is about having the image of God in your countenance and the power of God in your testimony. It is about loving to be on the Lord’s errand. King Lamoni asked Ammon if he was the Great Spirit. Ammon said just what our elders say today: “I am a man; and … I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people” (Alma 18:34). Great missionaries are too focused on the work to dwell on their own imperfections; thus their strengths come to the fore. They discover that testimony, preparation, and love bring conversion, not looks or personality or the gift of fluency.

New Jersey is the home of Princeton University. We were told that an English professor there had invited two of our missionaries in to visit him. One of them used such poor grammar that it was painful for the professor even to listen. But he could not turn them away because the power of that elder’s testimony encircled this brilliant man. He had to learn more.

Joy is not about leadership positions. If it is a missionary’s companion who is called to be the zone leader instead of himself, and he can rejoice for his companion, then he is a commendable missionary. And if a missionary is called to be a leader and is a humble servant-leader, he is also a commendable missionary. Either way, the missionary doubles his joy.

Joy is about faith in the cause of Christ. Our missionary daughter in Taiwan was having a very bad day. None of her investigators had come to church. There was contention in the branch. Her Chinese companion, full of faith, would not join in her discouragement but said to her, “Every dispensation for 6,000 years has ended in apostasy. Not this one. We are preparing for the Second Coming, and we’re not going to fail.” So much for Sister Workman’s very bad day.

Joy comes from being trusted. Trying to cut corners and get around rules makes any missionary miserable. When you “make yourself mind yourself,” when you know you are going to do what you say you will do, you will know joy. President Workman had only two rules, and if missionaries would keep them he promised a successful mission: “Work really hard and obey.” The praise of the president, as sweet as it is, is not the driving force behind a great missionary. Just doing the work, far from the scrutiny of the mission office, is its own exhilarating reward.

Joy comes from seeing the fruits of your labor. One day we were working with our Spanish zone. President Workman was tracting with elders and I with sisters. The plan was for several companionships to meet at a little pizza shop for lunch. I can still see one of our sisters as she burst through the door of the shop. Absolutely brimming with joy, she put her hands to her cheeks and said over and over, “She prayed, she prayed.” We saw pure joy over one investigator’s prayer.

Joy is about overcoming. The Spirit moves missionaries to struggle against laziness, anger, and disobedience. The smallest improvement brings courage, and missionaries keep trying. They learn to forgive each other and work through problems because they learn early that hard feelings drive the Spirit away.

Joy comes from teaching the plan. A sister from Jamaica was being taught at the mission home. The elders would begin to read a scripture, and almost before they could finish she would take the book from them so she could read it herself, exclaiming, “Oh my!” The promise “how great will be your joy” (D&C 18:16) filled the room as we watched her learn. President Workman asked a tall, strongly built elder what he had learned in his few months as a missionary. He said: “Before I came on a mission I knew that there was no greater thrill in life than football. Now I know that is nothing compared to seeing someone taught by the Spirit.”

Joy comes from building the kingdom. As an Apostle, President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) established the Spring Garden Branch in Newark, New Jersey, on October 11, 1848. It was closed, reopened, and closed again. Newark was not a family town. Crime was rampant. President Workman shared with me his misgivings about sending Elder Smith * as a district leader there. Could he take it? But he went willingly, and the work progressed. On Easter morning, 1990, the Spring Garden Branch was to be organized again. The Brethren wanted it to carry the same name. We met in the YMCA building in the center of Newark. The large room was packed and infused with joy. We sustained leaders who were Latino, Asian, African-American, and Caucasian. Several African brethren came in the colorful dress of their tribes. Young girls wore bright Easter dresses. A gray-haired man in a gray suit and a gray felt hat came in, somberly putting his hat above the coat rack. Following him was a young man, maybe 12, dressed just the same and doing the same thing. I thought to myself, “Newark is going to be OK.” Indeed, they now have a lovely building and missionaries teaching in several languages. But that Easter Sunday Elder Smith was beaming and crying harder than anyone. He said, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

Ultimately, joy is in Jesus Christ. Unbearable pain turned Alma to the Savior and thus to joy. Perhaps that experience prompted him to say, “May God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son” (Alma 33:23). The “joy of his Son” is found in every corner of every mission, indeed within every valiant elder and sister. Since the day on the Mount of Olives when the Savior gave charge to take His message to the world, He has loved His messengers. His promise for their times of trial is very tender: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). His gift to those who testify of Him is not freedom from hard work or sorrow or stretching but the surety that every ounce of effort in His name is an investment in joy.

Helps for Home Evening

  1. 1.

    Take family members on a tour of your home or neighborhood. As you walk, point out various objects, such as a kitchen stove or telephone pole, and discuss the potential for each to bring joy or sorrow. Discuss why we must experience sorrow to know joy (see pages 50–51). Decide what the family needs to do in its quest to find joy.

  2. 2.

    Write the bold paragraph headings on pages 51 to 54 on strips of paper. Invite family members to choose a strip of paper and share what the article teaches about that idea. Ask them to share an experience that illustrates why the idea they taught is true.

[photos] Photography by Robert Casey

Barbara Workman is a member of the Park First Ward, Orem Utah Park Stake.

Show References

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