Despite the Circumstances

A seventy-mile trip. On a donkey. Nine months pregnant.

If I were Mary, those circumstances would not have been a reason to rejoice. Those seventy miles would probably have included a plethora of complaints and lots of sighing. A reasonable amount of frustration during the long journey and a thought or two about a certain innkeeper. Joy would have been low on my list of emotions. But I wonder, if despite her difficult circumstances, despite the inconveniences and discomfort, if the knowledge she was carrying the Son of God brought her an unexplainable joy. A joy which baffled other travelers Joseph and Mary encountered and left the innkeeper dumbfounded. Joy fixed on Someone greater than her immediate discomfort and inconvenient circumstances.

Mary’s words of praise and rejoicing in Luke 2 give us a glimpse of a woman who rejoiced despite difficulties and confusing situations. And although we don’t know all Mary was feeling during the trip to Bethlehem, I think we can assume she experienced a wide range of emotions during the journey, just like we would have. From the intense joy of carrying the Messiah to the reality of traveling on a donkey while nine months pregnant.

Cross-cultural life lends itself to inconvenient and difficult situations – lost luggage, a long visa renewal process, language learning, cultural adaptation, team life and so on. We can easily allow all the crazy “normal” of our lives to become our sole focus and lose sight of the joy that comes from focusing on our Savior. The joy that comes when we reflect on all He’s done for us and how He’s sustained us.

My joy has waned the last half of this year. Circumstances outside of my control have made life more stressful, and I have allowed my focus to be on the inconveniences, the frustrations, the unknowns and the difficulties, instead of on the goodness and faithfulness of the Father. Lately I have started the morning thanking the Father for the beautiful sunrise and His daily provision but by evening I am stressed and grumpy and not joyful at all. (While I knew “normal” life in my passport country would be filled with stress, I allowed myself to romanticize life at home while I was overseas. And since I’ve returned, I’ve found myself romanticizing life abroad. All that to say, life is stressful and rarely smooth for long no matter where we are.)

Allowing the ups and downs of life to dictate my level of joy is not how the Father asks me to live, and this is most certainly not how I want to live. As I have focused my thoughts on joy, I have regularly returned to the first part of Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope…” (NIV). The joy in my life is not dependent on my circumstances; instead, my joy is rooted firmly in the hope I have in Christ. What a glorious, marvelous hope this is. Simply the thought of eternity with the Father, eternity without sin and heartache fills me with a deep joy. A joy that supersedes the difficulties of today and the worries of tomorrow.

As Christmas approaches and as my thoughts are drawn to the birth of the Savior, I long to rejoice each day in the eternal hope He provided. Mary might not have entirely understood all of the theology tied to the baby in her womb, but she knew she was carrying the Messiah. And she rejoiced in this despite the circumstances surrounding His birth. May each of us rejoice in eternal hope this December. May each of us focus our eyes on Him and not on ourselves. May each of us strive to remain joyful, even when life is difficult.

What helps you find joy in the difficult seasons of life? Do you have any Christmas traditions that help you focus on the joy we have because of Christ’s birth?

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8 Comments

  1. Sarah Hilkemann December 10, 2017

    Laura, thanks for sharing this! I appreciate the reminder that life is stressful no matter where we are. I can find myself dreaming of my passport country and imagining all the stresses that would go away if I lived there again. But there would just be different hard things! 🙂 I’ve found more moments of joy lately in really trying to let go. When I hang on to my own expectations, desires, rights, I find myself resentful when things don’t go the way I imagined or hoped. *Trying* to let go has at least helped push me more in the direction of joy. 🙂

    1. Laura December 11, 2017

      Sarah, yes, trying to let go does tend to push us in the direction of joy! Thank you for the reminder to let go of expectations and “rights” today!

  2. Shelley December 11, 2017

    I know it is rather an external thing, but one thing that has brought me hope this season is making the decision to purchase my first ever Christmas tree (albeit small) and decorate it for the season – it makes me think of home, of my Mom, and estranged family which brings hope that this one day will be changed 🙂

    1. Laura December 11, 2017

      Shelley, what a fun way to bring hope and joy to your life this year! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  3. Marie Foote December 11, 2017

    I love it when missionary women are this honest!! I can relate 100%!! You must be spying on my journal, Laura. 😂 I’m re-learning this Christmas that circumstances outside of my control are always under my Abba’s sovereign watch and ways. He is loving me when He allows these circumstances and the fork-in-the-road to force my heart to choose between faith and feelings. I needed to read this today! Thank you. Merry CHRISTmas! 💙

    1. Laura December 11, 2017

      Marie, it’s always encouraging to know others can relate to my words and what the Father is teaching me. 🙂 Praying for you as you re-learn these lessons about the Father.

  4. Ellie December 14, 2017

    Good to read Laura. Particularly liked this: “Mary’s words of praise and rejoicing in Luke 2 give us a glimpse of a woman who rejoiced despite difficulties and confusing situations. ” as I was just speaking on Mary on Monday and thinking of how she was given to deep reflection and it reminded me of how helpful I’ve found using the “Examen” prayer daily to see where God is bringing joy in my life. We do so easily “lose focus” but reflecting on where God is bringing us joy as well as what isn’t can shape our lives in the direction he’s leading us in. Blessings this Advent season lovely friends.

    1. Laura December 16, 2017

      Ellie, thanks so much for the reminder to spend time reflecting on the Father and how He’s at work in our lives.

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