Standing at the airport two days after my husband’s funeral, I reluctantly said goodbye to my sister. She was the last one to leave, and I longed to beg her to stay. Sensing my apprehension, she promised to call me everyday on her way home from work. Faithfully she called me for the first year to check in about my day. On the especially awful days, she would listen and then ask, “Where was the joy today?” Some days I struggled to name the joy, but still she persisted.
Day after day she challenged me to repeat the evidence of joy that was always there, no matter how crippling my grief was. Even though there were many days where this practice stretched me, I came to realize the power of it. The death of my husband may have broken my heart in two and robbed me of happiness, but it had not taken away my joy. You see, joy has nothing to do with my circumstances. Joy comes from my trust and faith in the One who stands with me through all of my trials.
Early on in my grief, I found the words of Philippians 4:13 to be a good reminder of the One whose presence is with me always. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” All things, not just some things. And so each day I grew a bit stronger. Many days the growth was so minute, it was almost immeasurable. Much of the strength and healing came from recognizing the joy that still existed in my life. It reminds me of the wisdom found in Proverbs 17:22- “A joyful heart helps healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
Joy continues to permeate my life and heart, and my sister doesn’t need to call everyday. I have learned to recognize the joy more readily, and without prompting. It has been transformational to live a life filled with joy. To do so reframes the difficult things into something meaningful, and has allowed me to grow and mature in my faith and grief. James, the brother of Jesus, talks of this kind of growth in James 1: 2-4, “Think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature.”
It would be much easier to go through life without the tests that shake me to my very core, but sadly, that is not possible. So I will go from day to day, embracing the trials and recognizing the joy in my life. It’s no easy task, but repeating this practice, really does allow me to grow and move toward a life of happiness. I am beginning to glimpse that already!
Joy is especially evident in the Christmas season. We celebrate the birth of Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, and the joy He brought to a hurting world. It is a message worth repeating over and over, just as the carols we sing say, especially “Joy to the World,”
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy
I hope you will seek to live a life that recognizes the joy in your midst, no matter what is going on in your life. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, CEB)
God of Love, thank You for showing the joy that is all around me. I know you won’t make everything easy for me, but You will show me how to find joy anyway. Continue to send people like my sister, who will nudge me to repeat this practice of joyful living. Amen.
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