by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery
Some of my darkest periods have occurred when I’ve appeared to have every reason for joy. And I’ve experienced deep joy during difficult and painful situations.
About ten years ago, after a series of moves and job shifts, our family landed in a small town northeast of Kansas City, MO. I homeschooled at the time, and we weren’t wealthy by any means, but our finances were solid and our bills paid, our marriage strong, and our home-life largely tension free.
But I was miserable. Defeated and confused. In pursuing what I thought would bring me joy, I was robbing myself of it.
At the time, I was working toward a teaching degree, or perhaps geology or chemistry, I can’t remember which. I changed my mind regarding potential career plans each semester, it seemed—because I wasn’t called to any of them. I knew with the deep yet quiet certainty that can only come from the Holy Spirit within that God wanted me to write, something I had no problem doing—as a hobby and according to my terms.
Terms that involved ample self-protection, also known as no transparency, and guaranteed financial payoffs.
But God was calling me to surrender. Everything. My plans, desires, wisdom, and all those prospects certain to include a secure 401K and steady paycheck. For surely, aren’t those things, and all the material benefits included in them, what bring joy?
If that were true, I would’ve had it in abundance. Instead, my heart felt dulled and dark, a darkness that increased as, through disobedience, I continued to distance myself from God and His love.
Light—and joy—flooded in the moment I surrendered.
I experienced the converse of this in 2012 when a mysterious illness began stealing my energy and dignity. Though I later discovered the cause of my rapid weight loss and related symptoms, for almost a year I sat in the tension of not knowing. Of fretting and imagining and striving to control what felt like a revolting body. But in the middle of all my uncertainty and pain, I experienced peace.
And joy. A joy much greater and stronger and more abiding than my circumstances—a joy found in abundance as I sat, each day, in God’s presence. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (NIV).
In other words, joy comes not in the absence of difficulties, but instead in God’s presence. As we hit pause on our busyness and each day’s stressors, as we allow His gentle whisper to drown out our worries and fears, He births joy within us.
His joy, not ours, is a gift given, if we’ll receive it. A gift that doesn’t necessarily abate our sorrow. In fact, joy and sorrow, even intense sorrow, can quite naturally co-exist. It did for Jesus, as He wept in the Garden on the night before His death. I imagine it did for God the Father as well, when He sent His precious Son into our sin-tainted world.
Joy isn’t an emotion. Those come and go based on countless external circumstances. Rather, joy is a deep awareness and appreciation for God’s love and grace, which is always at work, even in our darkest moments.
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:2 NASB
Jennifer Slattery is a multi-published writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. a Crosswalk featured blogger and maintains a devotional blog found at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events that help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. (They just released their first Bible study, Becoming His Princess, which you can grab for free HERE.) When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Join the conversation: Where have you found joy?