There are days I wish I could forget…days that are filed with so much pain that my life was marked by them. There are times I wish my life was back to “normal”. There are moments where my dreams seem completely unreachable. There are hours that are engulfed in loneliness. There are times where I feel so completely alone that I might just never be happy again. There are days where I wonder if the grief will ever end. Does the sadness really go away at some point? There are times that I am so deeply hurt that tears roll down my face, often without a reason. There are times that I sit on my floor, mourning. There are times that I am so deeply disappointed and desperate that all I can do is cry such bitter and agonizing tears and clutch my heart in hopes to reach the unfathomable pain and make it stop. There are times where I question if God really does love me. Does he actually care? Is he actually good? Is he really even there? There are minutes. There are hours. There are days.
Does it end? Will it stop? Does the pain ever really go away?
Yes, it does. And it will. Eventually. But for now, I hold on to one thing I’ve cultivated in my heart.
Unfathomable, unreasonable, unspeakable joy.
Happiness and joy are different. Happiness is circumstantial. Joy is eternal. Joy is Jesus. Joy is being in the midst of heartache and pain and still having a reason to get up in the morning. Joy is being crushed on all sides but still have a smile. Joy is having no reason to be happy but still finding strength. Joy is laughing in the face of fear.
I have joy.
And let me tell you why.
Because in a season before this, I sowed joy. So now I can reap it. Joy is so important. It is the JOY of the Lord that is our strength. (psalm 28:7).
In the season of life preceding the one I am in, I had to be unconditionally patient with myself, my closest friend, and God. I had to wait on his timing. I fought him for the first year. I trusted him for the second. And I loved the third. I almost didn’t want the waiting to be over. But it was a long, desperately hard wait for something I deeply wanted. I could easily have been angry at God for keeping this from me. In fact, I was at times.
However, I found it much more beneficial to respond in joy than anger. God had given me so many wonderful gifts. He had given me so many beautiful moments. So why wouldn’t I thank him for those instead of complaining about what I don’t have. And in the midst of the tears and not-so-easy days, I locked myself away and prayed so hard. I’d get on my knees, down on floor, and cry out to Jesus. I’d cry a lot. But in the tears, there began to be joy. I could feel him come close and hold me and remind me of what he had already done. And the joy would begin to come.
I’m not going to stand here and tell you it was one beautiful, easy moment in worship where the Lord just downloaded his joy into my spirit. Yes, it can happen that way for some, but I needed to walk it out. It wasn’t one experience. I’m finding my life is quite unlike that. No, instead it was momentary. I was a daily, hourly, momentarily choosing to be joyful in the midst of something hard. I chose joy daily. Every day I would wake up and say, “Jesus, today I choose joy. No matter what I feel like, no matter how my day goes. Today I choose joy.” And as I planted seeds of joy every single day, they began to grow.
What does it look like to sow joy? It looks like letting a bummer of a situation not ruin your whole day. It looks like not accepting that negative word someone just spoke over you. It looks like being thankful when there’s not really much to be thankful for. It looks like asking Jesus to help you when you really want to just scream at someone. Sometimes joy looks like crying, on your knees, before the King, asking him to show you his kindness and love. And he always will.
Joy grows and grows. It’s like a wild fire that spreads. It’s uncontainable. It’s contagious. It’s like sunshine, piercing the dark corners of your heart. It’s lovely.
You need joy. I need joy.
When this current season of refinement started, I was in complete brokenness. I felt like I was hitting a wall of solid disappointment that I couldn’t get around or over or through. I was riddled with heartbreak. I was physically exhausted from the emotional torment.
You see, heartache and loss can affect your day-to-day life if you let it. But so can joy.
I was at church conference when I started to see it—the harvest of joy in my life. I was talking with a leader, expressing the intense disappointment I was facing. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hannah, had you not told me I would never have known. The joy you carry is unbelievable. I can tell you’ve sown joy in a previous season and now you can be strong because you have the joy of the Lord.”
I was shocked. I forgot about joy. I was focused on how unfairly I had been treated, how betrayed I had felt, how unkind that person had been. I forgot about the single thing that got me through the last season.
I lifted my head up and started acting like the joy of the Lord really was my strength. I started pressing into the joy. And this time, it came naturally! It was so natural and easy to be joyful in the midst of what is the hardest thing I’ve ever faced.
Isn’t it just like God to let me reap the harvest I’ve sown for such a time as this?!
He is good! Even when it doesn’t look good, he still is.
And he is joy! Press into the joy! It will change your life, I promise! It changed mine!
I can say today, so humbled and thankful, that in the last three months, I have had several people come up to me and say there is a noticeable difference in my countenance. “What is it?” They say. “What happened?” And every time I tell the story of what actually happens–the heartbreak I experienced–they always reply the same way, “I would never have guessed! You are so full of joy!”
And this is what I get to say. I get to say, “Oh that’s my Jesus! He’s given me this unexplainable joy!”
Choose joy, friends!
“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.” -Psalm 28:7