Her eyes were tear-filled as we approached each other for an embrace. “I’m not happy, but I’m filled with joy,” she said. It was Mother’s Day and she was alone at church, her husband and sons busy at home with other activities, consumed with their own agendas. To them, it was just like any other day. For my friend, it was a slap in the face for her years of dedication, love, and sacrifice. As we held each other tightly, our tears began to flow.
Disappointment, hurt, rejection. Sometimes it arrives through the ones whom we love most -- and not only on a day set aside to show appreciation for mothers. Often it hits harder on those holidays meant to celebrate togetherness, including Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Easter. (And don’t even mention Valentine’s Day!) Unfortunately, these days can further expose broken relationships or highlight the loss of loved ones. For many, holidays are neither happy nor merry. Add in intentional rejection from loved ones, and they can be downright depressing!
But my friend, despite her sadness and pain on a day that was anything but “happy,” discovered something deeper, something better. She found joy that reached beyond her circumstances and peace through her disappointment. As we departed she looked at me with a smile and said, “I know you know what I’m talking about.” I did.
To find joy when life is unhappy is not easy. Actually, it cannot even be found. Joy comes to us. It is a gift. One Bible character knew this better than anyone -- a Pharisee named Saul. While hunting down joy-filled Christians in order to exterminate them, he hit the road in their pursuit. But God had other plans for his life, and Saul’s dramatic conversion to Paul on the Road to Damascus changed not only his mission to persecute Christians but his heart and his life. From that moment on Paul was empowered by God to spread the Gospel message even when under attack by everyone. He was beaten, persecuted, and imprisoned several times. In his new life as Paul, his circumstances were anything but happy, but he possessed an abounding joy. In fact, Paul penned one of the most uplifting and joy-infused books of the Bible, Philippians, from his prison cell.
Paul, as well as my friend, knew something many don’t understand nor accept in our world today. For a long time I was one of those people -- seeking joy but never finding it. I took incredible white-sand beach vacations, shopped for new hip mom clothes, indulged in the best cuisine in town, purchased a sporty luxury car, custom built a beautiful new home. But none of these pursuits brought me joy. No, not one! Momentary happiness was the result.
Through many years of seeking and struggling, I discovered that the gift of this kind of joy can only be found through a relationship. Jesus Christ was and is the only one able to fill me with a joy that is unmovable, unshakeable, and beyond the temporary things of this world.
Who or what is filling you? Will it sustain you when life is not happy?
“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.” (Philippians 1:18-19)