Let me ask you a question: where do you find joy in your life?
Is it your job, your spouse, your kids, friends, hobby?
What brings that smile to your face?
Now, let me ask you another question: Do you find joy in the difficult parts of life?
When you lose that job? When you and your spouse are ripping into each other? When your kids tell you they hate you? During the chemo therapy? At the unexpected funeral? When you lose everything and everyone?
Can I ask another question? What is joy?
Is it happiness? Is it that warm fuzzy that wells up in your belly when your toddler reaches for your arms to hold them? Is it ice cream on a hot afternoon in August?
Is it the fleeting feeling that comes and goes moment by moment?
Or is it something deeper, something that lasts beyond our emotions?
The Bible talks about The Fruit of the Spirit. What this means is that, as a result of believing in Jesus as the Son of God, the believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Bible teaches, is not a thing or a force or something/someone to be bossed around. The Holy Spirit is a person who comes to give wisdom, guidance, and comfort. Through the life-long process of living with the Holy Spirit, the believer develops these attributes – fruit – that characterize them. (And yes, I did say life-long for a reason).
One of these fruit, is Joy. And, if we are honest with one another here, this is a character attribute that we don’t always understand.
Often, we mistake this as a “I can’t let them see me suffer” attitude. We can’t be vulnerable with each other. Too often, those that call themselves followers of Jesus, believe that they need to plaster a smile on their face and hide behind the “I’m blessed” answer when asked how they’re doing.
And we do this, because we’ve learned that this is the only thing other people want to hear. “Don’t tell me your weaknesses, I have enough problems on my own thank you very much.”
We’re told, if we’re in the struggle, to “Count it all Joy”.
- The mother, watching their child slowly die from leukemia – Count it all Joy.
- The husband or wife that just lost their spouse in the blink of an eye – Count it all Joy.
- The child who cowers under the covers during every thunderstorm because they remember the tornado that tore apart their home – Count it all Joy.
But, I don’t want to hear about it. Be joyful. That’s all I want to see. That plastic smile on your face.
Because, if I see you suffering, that breaks every tenet I’ve set up or topples the temples of faith I’ve built.
Can I ask you another question? Is there a way to Count it all Joy, even if my insides are screaming?
Yes, but it takes a lot of effort. Your effort, and the effort of others around you.
The first bit of effort changes your focus. Where do you find your joy? Is it in the fleeting things of this world? Those things that can come and go in the blink of an eye? Even people – is your joy wrapped up in fragile humanity that can be taken from you, or let you down in some way?
For me, that joy is in God. I say that this takes effort, because it is not a feeling or emotion. And during the darkest times, I have to work to remember the promises He laid out in the Bible – promises that He will never leave me nor forsake me. Promises that Heaven waits for me after this life is over. Promises that He will restore all of creation to the way it was supposed to be before it became damaged. Promises that I can’t always see, or feel, or touch. Promises I have to trust because He said it.
This is not easy. I fail quite often. I fail to trust Him, I fail to believe Him. And, I lose my joy. It is an effort.
The second part comes from the effort of others. We were never meant to do any of this on our own. I don’t care how many times you’ve been told to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. We, in Western culture like America and Europe, believe strongly in the power of the individual. But, this is not how things work.
Every individual has value in and of themselves, yes, but:
- Those self-made millionaires – did they really “make it” on their own? No.
- That amazing, inspirational, best selling author you love – did they write those incredible books on their own? No.
- The parents you know who lost a child but somehow show a strength and peace and joy in the midst of their pain – is that all from them? No.
Somewhere along the way – and most of the time a large portion of their journey along the way – someone walked with them, helped them, guided them, taught them, showed them something they didn’t know, comforted them, was there for them.
Can I confess, I fail miserably in this, too. If I see someone struggling, I’ll think to myself that I need to reach out to them, to let them know they’re not alone, but I never do. I fail at encouraging, at comforting, at guiding, at teaching.
But, you don’t have to. And, because I’m still breathing, I don’t have to continue to fail those around me.
So, can we “Count it all Joy” when we suffer? Yes. It takes effort, it takes focus, but it is possible.
Together, it is possible.
This is another post that happened even though I had plans for something different. This comes off of a conversation I had with my wife, and a study I am doing with some dear friends (even though I missed the actual study on Joy). It is something that constantly plays in my mind, especially when I am suffering my worst days of depression.
What do you think? How would you define joy? Can joy be found in the darkest, most evil parts of life?
I’d love to hear from you.
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