Is Joy an Option?


Is joy even possible when hardships hit you with the force of a tsunami?

She is sitting four rows ahead of me, and her head jerks continuously, revealing her Parkinson's disease. To my left is a couple that feels the heartache of a daughter who is given over to heroin and feeds her habit by selling her body. A pastor who has suffered the loss of a child delivers the sermon.

They have been blasted with gale force trials. Yet here they are. Not just surviving, but thriving. Not just enduring life, but enjoying it. Worshipping the God in whom we trust and receiving from Him a river of grace infused with a joy that is simply inexplicable apart from God.

Is joy in life even possible when hardships hit you with the force of a tsunami?

The Bible says yes. A cloud of witnesses answers with an “amen.” And I add my voice to that number.

I carry deep and painful scars from the kind of childhood that gets adult perpetrators sent to prison for a very long time. I have a son who suffers from serious mental illness, and I know what it is like to drive hundreds of miles on a weekend to visit a psychiatric hospital.

But even with the wounds we bear from the battles of life, a deep and settled joy is a real option for the child of God. I use the word “option” deliberately, because a host of habits and decisions influence how we weather the hard times that inevitably crash into our lives.

I think Habakkuk captured the essence of sustaining joy in the book that bears his name:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. —Habakkuk 3:17-18

When everything else fails, we still have the God of our salvation. This is not some trite mantra we trot out to ignore the terrible things that hit us. This is something we cling to, because it is the most real and precious thing we have. When we don't have answers, we still have God. When we suffer loss, we still have a treasure no one can take away. The Jesus who took nails for us is unquestioningly committed to us, and nothing that happens today can possibly undo the fact of his death and resurrection.

I think the option of joy comes as a result of learning the promises of God during the good times, so that the Spirit can bring them to our mind in the hard times. It comes from building a web of deep friendships to support us in times of heartache. It comes from the ongoing practice of private fellowship with God. From hearts strengthened by grace. But always, there is the leap of faith. There is the deliberate step toward God instead of away from him. And the happy byproduct can be a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Written by Marcus Smithfield


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