In a book I recently read, the author spent part of a chapter talking about joy and his definition of joy has stuck with me these last couple of weeks.
I grew up thinking joy meant a version of happy and it was talked about in such a way that I thought even when hard stuff is going on in life, I'm not suppose to show it and instead I'm suppose to be happy or have joy all the time especially as a Christian.
This has always bothered me and a part of me rebels against it. Sometimes life just sucks and I don't believe God is saying we can't feel hurt, pain, sadness, loss, or feel like we are going to break under the heaviness of what is going on. You can't manage to smile at even the small things let along be your old self yet people seem to expect you to be your old self, to smile through the pain and act like nothing is wrong.
To those who have experienced the loss of loved ones and the loss is felt even more deeply around the holidays, to those who are currently in circumstances way beyond your control and weigh you down, to those who have medical issues that are life changing and life altering, to those who have experienced one hardship after another.... it is okay to not be okay. It is okay to feel all of those heavy emotions, to not smile, and to not have everything together.
And to you, I also say there is hope and there is joy to be found even in the most painful of circumstances.
Joy is not about being happy.
Joy is about showing gratitude to God no matter what is going on in life.
This time last year I was really struggling with all of this in the midst of the health crisis my dad was experiencing (and us right alongside him). I remember growing up hearing that we are to praise God even in the pain and I'm not sure I can be in that place. BUT I think I can manage to find a way to show gratitude for what God is doing or has done.
-I always had enough sick time to cover all the days and hours I spent with my dad (and mom) at the hospital. -Someone donated a trailer for my mom to stay in so she didn't have to pay for a hotel for the 2 months my dad had to be up in Portland. -There were staff, doctors, nurses and specialists who listened to us and didn't give up on my dad. -There were friends and family who came to visit, pass long hours, bring food and coffee, and help in any way we needed when we didn't have the energy to get every day things done. -My now husband showed his support, encouragement and love for me and my family without fail. -One of the biggest for me is that my dad, with the help of a walker, was able to walk me down the aisle after spending 6 months in the hospital and other facilities.
God didn't work the way I wanted him to or expected or would have preferred but He was still very much present and at work even when it was so hard to see or understand.
I'm thankful to spend this Christmas, not only with my new family and in-laws, but with my dad who is doing so much better now than a year ago.
I have learned so much through this experience and continue to. Joy is something I might choose more of now that it doesn't feel like a weight of "be happy" but more of "continue to see the good and recognize who it comes from".
May this season be a time of true joy for you and may you see His goodness (both big and small) all around you!
(By Rosanna Chapman. She lives in Oregon with her husband and step daughter.)