It's no secret that our world and our lives are full of hard times, hurt, and more stress than we ever expected to endure.
How can you be happy when there's so much hurt? How can you smile when things seem to be going wrong left and right? How can you be grateful when life is so hard?
Those are some tough questions. I've heard different versions of them, but they generally trace back to similar lines of thinking.
People want to know how it's possible to have hope and joy in the midst of difficult circumstances, whether ours or the world's.
So how do we hold onto hope and joy in the midst of hard times?
At the risk of sounding trite, we remember that joy isn't dependent upon our circumstances or the state of the world around us. Our joy comes from a deeper place, from a Person who isn't shaken even when everything else is.
CHOOSING TO CHOOSE JOY
In my experience, it comes down to choosing joy every day, regardless of circumstances.
When I was approaching my college graduation, I was in one of the most stressful seasons of life I've ever experienced. I was about to leave the safety of the predictable student life I'd lived my whole life up to that point, walking away from a strong community I loved, leaving a city I'd fallen in love with, and headed into a season full of unknowns.
Needless to say, I wasn't very happy about it. But I chose to pursue joy, to believe that God had it all worked out, and that even though my heart was breaking and my mind was frazzled from so many failed attempts to pin down a job post-graduation, I was secure because God was in control.
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't a decision I made just once. I had to make it again every day. And sometimes every hour.
Even though I had no idea what was ahead of me, I knew God would go with me. I still praised Him. I may have also yelled at Him and gotten incredibly frustrated with Him and his timing, but I also knew I could be frustrated and still praise Him. I could be irritated with my situation and still choose joy because my situation didn't change His character or my security in Him.
In that season, I had to choose joy each day. Some days I had to choose to choose joy, reminding myself that I always have that choice. It's not an automatic thing. It's a daily decision to pursue joy instead of fear. I didn't know how things would play out, but I knew they'd somehow be okay in the end.
HOLDING TIGHT TO THE PROMISES
What helps me hold onto joy is remembering God's promises. It's like there's a silver lining to everything because I know He's faithful to fulfill His promises, including Romans 8:28, which says that He's working everything together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them. So I can rest knowing He's got this, whatever "this" might be in the various seasons and situations of my life.
He has promised to never leave us or forsake us, to be with us always. And sometimes that's what I cling to the most. I don't always have to know how it's going to work out in the end; it's enough to just know that I'm not alone.
He promises in Galatians 6:9 that if we keep going, if we don't give up, we will reap a harvest of blessing "at just the right time." It's taken me a while to realize that blessing might not look the way I expect it to or want it to, but if I keep pursuing Him, serving Him, and loving others, there is always some sort of blessing involved.
He delights to give us good gifts, He came to give us abundant life. Obviously, those things also come alongside and amidst difficulties and struggles, but they are such precious gifts from Him, and I'm learning to recognize them as such and pause to cherish them and give thanks for each one.
And when I focus on the blessings instead of the stress and pain, I can find greater joy in the midst of my circumstances. It doesn't remove the pain or whisk me away from challenging situations, but it gives me greater perspective and reminds me that God is still good.
HOW I WANT TO LIVE
For me, it came down to deciding how I wanted to live my life. I decided years ago that how I live my life is more important than what I do with it. No matter what happens, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, there are certain things that I want my life to be characterized by.
I choose joy because that's how I want to live.
I don't want to be consumed by fear or anxiety. I want to rest knowing God's got it all under control, even when I can't see how it's all going to play out.
I don't want to be negative, focusing on all the hurt and stress in and around me. I want to see the positive side, find the joy, and be able to share joy and encouragement with those around me.
I don't want to rush ahead or lag behind, grasping at straws or fighting to hold onto things of the past. I want to make the most of the season I'm in right now and hold things with open hands, joyfully accepting whatever God chooses to give and take away.
I don't want to feel pressured to make everything work out by my own strength (that's always the messier way to go). I want to let go and let God deal with the nitty gritty details of weaving together the tapestry of my life and His work in the world into something beautiful.
How do you want to live your life? Do you want it to be characterized by greater joy? I thought so. I've created a Facebook group called The Joy + Full Living Community for people like you looking to live full lives that are joyful, peaceful, and meaningful, and I'd love for you to join us!