Have you ever volunteered or signed up for something that you actually had no business signing up for? Or maybe you thought after the fact, “What was I thinking? I am not qualified to do that!” Well, that’s how I feel right now. I don’t consider myself a “joyful” person by nature, let alone an expert on joy, but here I am.
My guess is that, like me, a lot of you have been feeling overwhelmed lately; maybe fearful, anxious, or frustrated. Many of my friends have expressed they feel trapped and stressed out by life’s current circumstances. What does the road ahead look like? When might life normalize or become “safe” again? When I start devoting attention to my own insecurities and need for control, I veer off the road of obedience onto treacherous paths.
You might find me at the dead-end of Worry Street, or walking in circles around Ticked-off Culd-de-sac. Another place I tend to wander is Forget-About-It Backyard, where I prop up my feet, and watch hours of Netflix in a rickety lawn chair, escaping from deadlines or other responsibilities. I try to avoid it, but sometimes I find myself slumped against a brick wall, brooding in Angry Alley. I might see a glimmer of hope and happiness around the corner but when I’m focused on all that’s not going my way, I wallow in Grumpy Gutter. You been there?
When I think about this crazy life, I can go all sorts of directions in my head, down all sorts of roads and byways. And since science tells us that the vast majority of our thoughts are negative (up to 80% a day), things can start to seem pretty grim and meaningless when we let our thoughts run wild. We spiral, and we lose sight of the joy that is inherent in our relationship with Christ, the joy that is deep down in our hearts (like that old Sunday school song- I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart!). The Enemy loves it when we spiral; it’s a breeding ground for confusion and fear.
Here’s the deal: my joy comes from my identity in Christ and what God says about me. That never changes. My circumstances will change, and in fact, Jesus said, “In this World you will have trouble.” STILL…I have a choice to slump my shoulders in despair or lift up my head to the one who grounds me in the truth of the Word.
For a long time, I thought joy was something that came out of things going right, a happy, good feeling (which it can be). But as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve learned that taking my thoughts captive to be obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) is what allows joy to flourish in my life. This is easier said than done, but I do believe we can experience the joy that comes with knowing our true identity in Christ, in all sorts of seasons and circumstances.
After a massive surge in Covid-19 cases, our state went into shelter-in-place on March 23rd. Everyone was told to stay home, unless you were an essential worker.
I didn’t stay home. I went to work and let me tell you, I was scared to death. I did not exude joy when my husband handed me a cup of coffee as I headed out the door to the clinic where I work as a nurse. I waved goodbye to my kids, got in the car, and listened to radio news reports about Italian nurses taking their own lives because of Covid-19. By the time I got to work, I was shaking.
After a few days of being completely overwhelmed with work, I put myself in time-out. I needed to re-align myself with God’s Word and what I knew to be true. I invited Jesus into the conversation and laid my heart bare. I quickly realized I was letting all the difficult things in my life uproot my trust in God. I had a choice. I could sit in fear, and let the Enemy run me over with thoughts of terror and separation from loved ones OR clear my head by holding onto Truth and the Joy that comes from walking closely with the Lord, no matter the circumstances.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience.”
You might say that joy is God’s gift to us in life and in death. We are sojourners on our way home where our joy will finally be complete. I think of joy accompanying me on my life’s path, sometimes it holds my hand tightly and I can feel its touch deep down in my soul. Other times it seems like joy is playing hide-n-seek in the woods, alluding me while life’s difficulties throw obstacles into my path. That’s when counting my blessings keeps me from staying stuck, or getting off track: simple joys like sunrises, morning snuggles with my little boy, receiving a bouquet of flowers, comforting a struggling co-worker, connecting with friends over Zoom, or experiencing encouragement from the Velvet Ashes Retreat!
I may not be a role model when it comes to the “joy-filled life,” but friends, if I’ve learned anything, it is that we have a gracious and loving Father who can handle all our desperate, angst-filled, grief-stricken, doubting cries, and lead us down the path everlasting. That gives me a whole lot of joy, so much joy, I can’t help but smile (even under the mask I’m wearing). Let’s continue to encourage one another in these difficult days; we don’t have to go it alone.
What Scriptures do you lean on in challenging times, especially when joy is hard to find? What side streets have you been wandering down lately, and how can we pray for you?