So much of Christianity is contradictory to what the world tells us is true. In Samuel 16:7, God reminds us, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” And over and over, the New Testament records Jesus telling His followers, “Hey, you know this thing that you believe? Well, the opposite is actually true.”
As I’ve learned about joy over the past couple of years, I’ve realized that joy – true joy, the kind that doesn’t disappear on a rainy day or in hospital rooms or traffic jams or shouting matches – is one of those things that turns what I thought I knew on its head.
My friend and co-author Sara Frankl taught me this with her words, but also with her life. As I watched her choose faith over fear through incredibly challenging circumstances, I understood a little better what “no matter what” means when it comes to joy. She wrote on her blog: “Joy is the unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it – not despite what’s happening in my life, but because of it.”
Wow! Because of it. Out of all the words I’ve read and written and edited while turning Sara’s blog into a book, that phrase is the one I haven’t been able to shake. “Not despite of it, but because of it.”
As I look for ways to teach my daughters that joy in the Lord is our strength, I’m often reminded how difficult it can be to choose joy. Tangled hair and messy friendships, lessons about lying and reminders to brush her teeth (again), debates over outfits and music and basketball tryouts can all test my commitment to joy. Really, it can feel like parenting is one joy-challenge after another! But joy isn’t about my comfort or convenience or lack of conflict. It’s about something deeper.
When I struggle, I’m encouraged by Scripture, like in Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) And I’m reminded by Sara that simply saying thanks to God for every single part of our lives – and His hand in our lives – will lead to a grateful heart that can’t help but be filled with joy.
I pray the excerpt below, from Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts, will encourage you in your pursuit of joy, too.
From Chapter 8 of Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts:
As I was talking about prayer with my friend the other day, I told her that at some point my prayer life had changed. Now, every one starts with “thank you.”
I don’t know how else to pray because I stopped knowing what I wanted to pray for. As much as I want parts of my life to change, I don’t want it to change if it’s not in the best plan of God. Sometimes I don’t want things to be this hard if I live a long life, and sometimes I want to fulfill this road but want Him to promise me it will be a short one. I want my friends and family protected and to feel the peace they so need, but I don’t want them to be protected out of living and loving in His will.
For me, it all comes down to wanting to ask Him for His will to be done. Not mine. It comes down to trusting Him with absolutely everything and everyone. So my prayers sound more like this:
- Thank you for knowing how all of this plays out each day, so I can be content in living each day of it for you.
- Thank you for keeping me open so I can see what is in front of me that you need from me today.
- Thank you for covering my friend in your protection. For allowing her to feel the love and peace that I am sending and that You provide.
- Thank you for never leaving my friend, even when he doesn’t feel you or believe in you; thank you for waiting for him with open arms when he’s ready to see you again.
- Thank you for loving her enough to make a clear path in a time when she needs to know how to travel.
- Thank you for the gifts you’ve placed everywhere around me, in the hard places, so I can see you in it all more clearly.
- Thank you for healing her in your time and in the way you know she needs. For protecting her body and her spirit as only you know how to do as she walks this road.
I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I trust that everything that comes from God is good. I trust that everything that comes from God is an already answered prayer. I trust that everything that will come from God is exactly what I need. Even if it’s hard. Because He sees what I can’t. So I count it all as gift. And I thank Him – not for the pain and the difficulty – but for the faithfulness He gives during all of it.
Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver was released by the Hachette Book Group in 2016. It is a must-have for those searching for meaning and beauty in a world full of tragedy. Sara’s words breathe with vitality and life, and her stories will inspire smiles, tears, and the desire to choose joy. To learn more about CHOOSE JOY, visit TheChooseJoyBook.com.