There is nothing—absolutely no circumstance, no trouble, no testing that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him, and I accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, and I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is. That is the rest of victory. ~ Dr. Alan Redpath
I’ve struggled with joy. I’ve struggled with joy, because I thought that joy was just an emotion. I thought that if I was joyful then I’d be happy. There’s a difference between joy and happiness even though in our society they are synonymous.
During the first year of Tullie’s birth and the year of Eli’s death, I struggled and wrestled with happiness/joy. People would talk about what they wanted in the New Year and they’d say, “I want to be happy.” Almost like if any sort of struggle or pain shows up their happiness/joy is stripped away from them and it’s nearly impossible to get it back. I’d think, “I’m not happy. I’m not full of joy. I am in a miry pit. It’s dark. It’s cold and it’s ugly. There is no joy/happiness here.”
Three years ago we had a bad Christmas. It wasn’t just a bad day, it was a BAD day. On the West Coast and on the East Coast. The three hours didn’t make much of a difference that day. It was one thing after another. Tullie woke up at 6 AM gasping for breath. Mike ended up taking her to Children’s because she was struggling really really bad. I was pregnant with Ellison, so Josiah and I hung out at home waiting to see what was going to happen. Come to find out she had croup and they were going to be keeping her overnight to keep an eye on her, because her airway was so stressed and they wanted to make sure she was going to be ok. Mike came home for a few hours, so that Josiah could open his gifts entertain some guests and hang out with us for a bit. While we were having dinner, we got a phone call from my parents about something going on with my sister. Well, by then, I hung up the phone and nothing kind was coming out of my mouth. Words used out of frustration, anger and wanting everything to stop and be normal. Mike went back to the hospital to spend the night with Tullie. My sister and I cried together on the phone and I think collectively we were curious about joy/happiness. Where was it? It certainly wasn’t in this mess.
I would get annoyed when people would tell me, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” “Be joyful! You have Jesus.” “There’s joy in everything! Every situation there’s joy.” “You can be happy, just dig a little bit deeper in yourself. You’ll find it.” I quickly became a cynic. I felt like those phrases were so fake. What in the heck did it mean? Find joy in death? In sickness? In pain? In destruction? What in the hell were these people talking about? For me in those moments I was a smiling, joyless/happyless person.
What I have learned over time, is this, if my joy/happiness is in my circumstances, the things I have, my situations then that is fleeting. It means nothing. I’ll be happy on Christmas when I open a pretty present from my husband, but is that happiness going to remain throughout the rest of the day? I will be joyful when Tullie speaks crazy big words, because I am thrilled with her development. But will that joy last through the rest of the week? Does the joy/happiness in my circumstances define who I am? No. Does my pain/sadness in circumstances define who I am? No. Who defines me? Where is my identity? When all the crap is hitting the fan, where is my eternal joy going to lie? Joy and happiness are emotions, but Paul also uses the word joy in Philippians as a command. Paul is in prison. He’s being beaten. His body is broken. He doesn’t know how much longer he’ll be around. He’s telling the Philippians, “always in every prayer of mine, for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (1:4-5) and “…I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you.” (1:25-26) Throughout the book Paul is telling them to rejoice and have joy, despite his circumstances. What is he telling them to rejoice and have joy in? Is it circumstances? Is it something fleeting? No. Hint: Sunday School answer. It’s Jesus! Our LORD!
The joy of what our LORD is! What is He? He is faithful. He is just. He is our comforter. He didn’t say that life was going to be easy. He didn’t say we were going to get by without suffering. In fact, because we love Jesus we may suffer more. We may suffer more so He can be glorified. Jesus is not concerned about our earthly happiness. He’s concerned about our sanctification. While we’re going through that hard process, where is our joy? Our joy is in who our Jesus is. When joy is in Jesus it is not fleeting. It remains the same. It’s solid and it’s strong. It carries us through the storms. It doesn’t sink. It’s steadfast.