Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fighting for Joy (even when you aren't happy)

**I'm breaking the rules and putting an update BEFORE you read this. Reading through my post, I decided I sounded kind of preachy. Please know I'm preaching to myself. Full disclosure...it's been a tough season - give or take 3 years. So these thoughts, while gleaned from the world around me, are mostly a full reflection of my own heart. I hope you leave here encouraged.**

Joy. It's been on my mind A LOT lately.

I've decided that Christians are some of the most depressed people I've ever met. Now before you get your panties all up in a bunch, just hear me out. We know Jesus. We are called into joy. We are taught through suffering that joy and happiness are two very different things. The Bible doesn't call us to be happy, it calls us to have joy. For those who don't know Jesus, they probably don't have much joy either - but they are really good at faking happiness (or actually just BEING happy), so it often appears that they have more joy. (That sentence made my head hurt. Sorry about that.) But Christians seem to feel the weight of this world, and it robs us of our JOY to the point that we can't even fake happiness. Isn't this world supposed to be better than this? We have Jesus. Surely there is more. Surely it shouldn't feel this hard.

But there in lies our fault.

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world." John 16:33

I've been pondering a few reasons why it is so hard for Christians to have joy.

1) We fall into a belief that because we follow Jesus, because we've committed everything to Him - that He in turn will remove our sufferings, our sorrows, our pain, our troubles. I mean, really God? I give you everything! The least you can do is take this cup from me. There's two problems with that. One being that He TELLS us in His word that we will have troubles. Why we expect different is beyond me. The second being, He didn't take the cup from Jesus when he was facing death on the cross for the entire world. But us? Somehow we truly believe that we should not have to face the sin and suffering around us.

2)  We think that because God seems to have miracles working in everyone else's favor, and everyone else's lives look better than ours - that somehow we got the short end of the stick. We have some pretty huge spiritual Giants that show us throughout History what the "short end of the stick" really is. Sarah (she waited for just a few years - give or take 90) for her hearts desire to come to be....that of having a child. I was depressed and questioning God when I had to wait one year. In the world of our hearts desires and dreams though - time is a big issue when it comes to joy. Noah had to face all sorts of extremes (including Rock People, apparently) while he waited for the earth and humanity to be renewed. Most of us can't handle when the sun doesn't shine for 3 days straight. (If you suffer from weather related issues, remember this dude.) David was obviously a man of sorrows, depressed, bi-polar, clinical...you name it. Solomon? Don't get me started. Men!! Think of having that many wives? Tell me your heart didn't just sink from the thought alone! And besides that, have you READ Ecclesiastes? "Nothing new under the sun" doesn't exactly bread hope and joy. Job? Duh. Paul? When is the last time you were in prison for spreading the Good News? Jesus. Ouch. Yeah....we have it pretty good.  (Disclaimer: I KNOW our lives are still hard. Stay with me.)

The other major flaw in this is that we quickly become "one-issue voters" (as Aaron likes to call it). We have one thing we cling to so tightly .... if God would just heal me, heal my child, heal my marriage, heal our family, pay off this debt, provide what we {think we} need ... THEN I would believe he loves me and truly is for me. We become so engrossed in these thoughts that we forget the many areas he HAS showed up. In this, we are called to REMEMBER the wondrous works he has done (Psalm 105). They are many.

If we choose to cling so tightly to the one area God isn't showing up the way we want and forgetting all the times he has, we've now reduced the size of the cross to fit neatly into our back pocket only to be pulled out when we need it....but it's hard to bring it back to full size when we've shrunk it for so long.

3) We think that if we struggle, it means we lack faith. So we muster up strength....we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, put on our big girl panties.... We put on a smile and act as if. All the meanwhile, true joy is plunging further and further into the darkness. There is help and there is hope. And we live in a world where often times help and hope can be accessed by taking a tiny little pill on a daily basis. But if we do, its best that the other Christians don't find out for fear that they will see our weakness and question our faith.

This one I take many issues with. I've always prided myself on being the strong girl, so it's taken me a while to get to a place of "issue", but I'm finally there. Joy comes in the morning! And for many (including myself at times), that joy came in a prescribed bottle. There is no shame in this, Christians! Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and a myriad of other mental health afflictions are REAL. We do not have permission to use them as a crutch to avoid the hard, but we do have permission to (through Dr. supervision, counseling and/or Gospel community) deal with the mind so we can deal with the heart. I've decided it takes a much stronger person to admit their need for help than it does to pull up those bootstraps.

4) We live in a society/church that has two theological camps to chose from. Either we believe in prosperity theology, or we believe in martyrdom theology. Both are wrong. Jesus doesn't promise to give us everything, and he doesn't promise to withhold everything. For those who struggle with joy, finding a solid middle ground is trickier than one might think.

5) We lose sight of eternity. We blind our eyes to Gods sovereignty. Bottom line is this - How long will He leave us here? It's all too much. We can't handle when life is hard, because what does that mean about God? Is he causing this? Is he allowing this? If he dictates our successes and failures, then why try? He already knows the future, so what good are my prayers?

Life is messy. God makes something of messes. Life is hard. God offers a light burden. Life is sad. God makes beauty from ashes. Life is unfair. God brings about justice.

So Christian - I ask you this..... what is stealing your joy? I remember when I had young children. They were needy. To say the days were long would be an drastic understatement. I thought that diapers, fits, sleepless nights, long and lonely days, and Lego pieces scattered everywhere would be the remainder of my days. (The Lego one I am still wondering about.) Joy seemed out of reach. Mundane was the new normal. Lonely was the new black. And hopelessness was forever my companion. But that season has passed. Every seasons passes.

Are you committed to fight? Our joy was bought with a price. We deceive ourselves (correction, Satan - who came to steal, kill and destroy - deceives us) when we  think life is only hard for us. We deceive ourselves when we grow bitter in our sorrows. We deceive ourselves when we think everyone has it better. We are each uniquely called, uniquely gifted, uniquely pursued, and uniquely crafted in the Image of God to be a part of something bigger than we can imagine. I'm not saying you have to be happy about this. But God's word makes it clear that there IS joy in it. And honestly, to know the truth that our lives will measure up to be better than we could have prayed for or dreamed of??? Well, THAT is hope! It's up to us if we choose to cling to the joy and hope at our disposal or not.

We go to war with our sorrows with the truth of the Gospel ... so that joy may abound. Martin Luther nailed it when he said we must beat the Gospel into our heads continually. For it is through the Gospel that hope, peace and joy are at its fullest.

Brothers and Sisters.....may we CHOOSE joy today!

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may about in hope." Romans 15:13