Several years ago during a fall retreat, my worship pastor taught from 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. As he so often did, Pastor Chad challenged my understanding of those ideas.
To emphasize his points, he sent us on solitary prayer walks. He directed us to a trail where he’d previously set up several counter-intuitive prayer thoughts: Thanks, God, that I cannot hide from You, especially when I most want to; Thank you for allowing me to stumble; Thank you, Lord, for tragedy in my life. We were to stop at each sign, taking time to personalize each prayer – to find joy in and give thanks for the situations the Spirit brought to our attention through those statements.
At the time and very often since, my mind went almost immediately to my oldest daughter, Anna Vivian, whom my husband and I lost to a second-trimester miscarriage in November 1998. God has graciously carried me through the grieving process from that worst day of my life, and I’m thankful for that. But can I honestly say I find joy in having lost her to begin with?
Certainly not in our culture’s understanding of joy, equating it with “happiness.” I still long to cuddle Anna…to know her unique personality…to see her as big sister to my two other daughters…to be anticipating now for what should be her high school graduation in the spring of 2017. I can’t be “happy” to have missed all of that.
However, God’s definition of “joy” isn’t a synonym for “happiness.” Instead, because joy is a Fruit of the Spirit, it’s aligned with the concepts of trust and submission. Thus, if I’m always joyful, I will trust – through the Spirit’s empowerment – that God knows what He’s doing in and through each circumstance. I will submit to His orchestration of an event even when I don’t understand it in the least. And then I will aim in His strength to bring glory to Him through it, even in my pain.
So I’m not “happy” that Anna isn’t here with me. But I have found joy: in the friends and family who rallied to my aid more than seventeen years ago; in those who continue to acknowledge Anna Vivian as a real part of our family; that I’ve been able to minister to other women who’ve gone through similar circumstances; that I have full assurance of spending eternity with my daughter.
What about you? In what hard situation can you find joy? You needn’t be “happy.” Just willing to seek God in the midst of it.
Photo Credit: Ashley Harrigan