By Kim Wright
It had been a rough few months. We bought a fixer-upper to work on, my hubby had a major job change, the grandmother who raised me passed away, and some considerable teenage rebellion was going on—all within the span of a couple of weeks. With the heartbreak and fallout that followed, I found myself overwhelmed and underjoyed. Life can do that to you, can’t it?
Here’s what I learned about the value of joy during that stretch of time.
Comparison Is Nothing But a Thief
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Teddy Roosevelt’s words never rang truer. It sure was easy to scroll through social media and think that all my friends were living the dream. Were those angel wings I saw on everyone else’s children? Were all my married friends being served coffee in bed or going out on exquisite date nights just because? The only party I was invited to, it seemed, was my own pity party. A trip through cyberspace quickly left me feeling unfun, unloved, and uninvited. Heavy sigh.
Comparison steals peace, pleasure, and prosperity, leaving you distressed, disconnected, and destitute. How does one take back what has been stolen from them—that precious commodity of incomparable joy?
1. Spend more time in the presence of the one who will fill you with joy (Psalm 16:11) than you do perusing social media or whatever avenue you’re allowing to pickpocket your joy right out from under you.
2. Remember that the combination of joy and obedience may seem like an oxymoron, but obedience is what makes our joy complete (John 15:11). It doesn’t matter what God is telling someone else to do, only what he is telling you to do (see John 21:21, 22).
3. Walk outside, breathe in deeply, get your hands in the dirt and your eyes looking around you. Notice the birds, the blooms, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sounds of nature, the silence of the night, the crunch of the fall leaves, and the uniqueness of each snowflake. The same God who created all this has fearfully and wonderfully made you to be uniquely in his image. In this generation. At this very moment. To be you.
Circumstances Can Weigh You Down
Circumstances are often the scales used to measure how joyful we are. If things are going well, joy overflows. If not, no matter how far you tip your joy bucket, the only thing poured out is dust. It sure was easy to take my eyes off the Lord and on to the circumstances at hand. It was easy to buy into the lie that these hardships were an indicator of God’s love (or lack thereof) for me. It’s easy to believe the false equation that a smooth road plus light load equals immeasurable joy.
Things weren’t ideal when Nehemiah got permission from the king to return to his homeland and start rebuilding. The wall was broken, the gates burned, the people a mess. He had every reason to be less than joyful. And yet he wholeheartedly encouraged the people: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
How so? In a topsy-turvy time of craziness, Nehemiah sought after an unchanging, unwavering, unending source for his strength to endure the trials and hardships he faced. Our circumstances will wax and wane, yet the Lord will not. He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
This doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings appropriate to the circumstances. Nehemiah was grieved over the news he heard. He “sat down and wept. For some days [he] mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). I was grieved at the passing of my grandmother, angry at times with my rebel child, overwhelmed with the travels of my husband. And yet, smack in the middle of all these emotions, I felt joy. Glorious, unspeakable, bucket-filling, unexplainable, pure JOY. Not because of my circumstances but in spite of them.
Community Is Key
Community is key when you’re feeling overwhelmed and underjoyed. My granny knew the importance of this when I got married and planned to move away. Her advice to my groom and me was to find a church and get ourselves plugged in because those folks become your family too. So smart!
In Exodus 17 we see Moses send Joshua out to fight the Amalekites, mortal enemies of the Jewish people. Moses was watching from on top of a hill, and while his hands were up, Joshua and his men were winning. But when Moses lowered his hands, the enemy gained advantage. Moses’ buddies Aaron and Hur saw that he was getting weary of holding his arms in the air, so they got him a rock to sit on and held his arms up for him.
We aren’t meant to do battle by ourselves.
About the time I was becoming weary from holding my hands up in this joy-sucking battle I was fighting, God sent in some sisters to help me. He gave me my own “Erin and Her.” These women not only got a seat for me so I could rest, but also held my arms up when they grew tired. They helped me win the battle of feeling overwhelmed and underjoyed by walking alongside me, letting me know I wasn’t alone, not letting me wallow too long, and making me laugh ’til I cried on occasion.
Choosing Joy Is a Choice
Joy is an option we can’t afford to opt out of. “Joy is a decision, a really brave one, about how you will respond to life” (Wess Stafford from Compassion International). The choices we make with regard to our circumstances are crucial. There were many days I didn’t feel like choosing joy, but feelings are fickle. I didn’t want to choose joy—after all, wallowing in all my junk was so much easier. But I needed to choose joy.
Things shifted for me this past year when I stopped focusing on the mayhem and started watching for ways God began to move mountains. A funny thing began to happen—the more I chose to delight myself (find joy) in the Lord, the smaller the mountains of mayhem seemed. Honestly I’m not sure the mountains got any smaller—much of my circumstances are still the same—but God is showing me how much bigger he is. He does that when we let him.
Bravely choosing joy is seeing “struggles not as problems to be overcome but as gateways through which we can learn generosity and tenderness” (Henri Nouwen). It’s a decision to dig deep in God’s Word and plant roots right there among his promises. It’s trusting that not only can he work all things for the good but that he will (Romans 8:28).
The value of joy, that inner delight and peace in the midst of utter chaos, is immeasurable. It is hope renewed when feeling blue. It is strength-giving, purposeful living. It is eyes on the one who can get the job done.
Yes, it does take bravery and courage to wake up every day and choose joy, but what a difference it makes in our spirits, in our hearts, and in our attitudes. Be brave and choose joy today.
Kim Wright is a freelance writer/blogger from Morrow, Ohio, who’s raised a few kids and a handful of chickens (kimwrightwrites.com).