When Trials Steal Your Joy
The date was June 20, 2013. My doctor gave me a diagnosis I did not want to hear. I thought autoimmune diseases only affected obscure, sickly people. Suddenly, I was that person. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. My doctor said I could go into remission, stay the same, or, worst case scenario, die. But no one could predict the outcome.
After the appointment, my husband and I drove a short distance to the neighboring town that we call home. When we arrived, something felt wrong. The vehicles were backed up on main street like we had never seen them before. There was a roadblock up ahead. We rolled down the window to ask a police officer what was happening and how to get home.
"You're not going home."
And that was it. She waved us on, eager to get the line of vehicles moving again.
As we began to turn, we looked down the hill that would take us home. Rushing water saturated every building in sight, pulling vehicles along in its current. People were being rescued from their homes and places of business by any means possible. A boat. A helicopter. The bucket of a front-end loader.
This was the moment we discovered our house was flooded.
The authorities evacuated the town and called in the military. We were not allowed to return home. Stories of thefts, dead bodies, and conspiracies abounded. Everyone was on pins and needles for some news about their home. It felt like an eternity of waiting. In the end it was ten days.
With N-95 respirators on our faces and tentative steps, we entered our house. Light seeped through the broken basement windows to reveal thick sludge covering the floor. Patches of mold covered the walls and bedding. A solid wood desk lay on its side. A toy train hung from the ceiling. It looked like a dollhouse that someone had dropped and scattered the contents. It was completely uninhabitable.
We were displaced for eighteen months, living in a tiny mobile home with our three sons on our family's farm. With the massive amount of destruction, trades people were scarce. We were up to our necks in post-flood paperwork, and scrambling to find our way forward.
These months were extremely stressful. I felt uprooted and unstable. No area of my life was insulated from difficulty. The truth is, I am still trying to recover from the effects of stress on my health.
The other morning I opened my Bible to Psalm 30 and read these words:
"Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning."
Soothing words. But I was struggling to believe that they were true for me. I felt that joy might tarry for the night, but weeping would come with the morning. It felt safer to expect the worst. Stunned to realize I was harboring unbiblical expectations, I began to talk to God about my honest feelings, and His Word reminded me that I couldn't have been more wrong.
Why I Have Hope
God never promises us physical health, safety, or wealth. But for the Christian, doom is never on the horizon. Christian eschatology declares hope for the future. Both in this life and in the life to come.
- I have hope in future glory when God will wipe away every tear from my eyes. Death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:3).
- In this lifetime I anticipate that my inner self is being renewed day by day even as my outer self wastes away (2 Cor. 4:16).
- I anticipate that as I grow in intimacy and communion with God, my joy will increase (Ps. 16:11).
Even if our house floods again come June, I expect good things. Scripture tells me that I have concrete reasons to have hope for my future.
Christians will experience trials, yes, but this is not the end of the story. We keep persevering because "this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). So even if my physical trials increase in the coming years, I know they are preparing me for something well worth pursuing.
The Importance of Christian Imagination
Do you have difficulty believing that joy comes with the morning? Sometimes we need to stop and seriously consider what our lives could look like ten, twenty, and fifty years from now. What will it be like in eternity?
In your mind's eye, imagine God's promises played out in your life. For example, twenty years from now you could enjoy a deep intimacy with God that exceeds anything you have experienced to date. Imagine how forty years of God working in your life could so transform you, that you will reflect the beauty of your Savior in a way that you never could now. Imagine that one day sin and suffering will not exist for you.
If you have never stopped to imagine these things, what are you striving for in life?
Trusting God's Purposes
I'm not saying it's easy. But this is the unique dynamic of the Christian life. Future hope permeates the struggles of today. When the apostle Paul says, "All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose," we must view our circumstances through this lens.
For the Christian, struggles are not meaningless. God has greater designs that we cannot always see or understand, but we can choose to see His goodness in them. We don't have to like our circumstances, but we do have to trust that God is loving us in them.
I don't tend to ask God "Why?" these days. I know why. "God disciplines those He loves" (Heb. 12:6).
I am a sinner. And God loves me.
Instead, I ask "What sin is God exposing in me?" and "How can I change?"
Of course, none of this will mean anything to us if Jesus is not our greatest treasure. But if He is, we can be sure that joy comes with the morning. Trials hurt. There is no doubt about that. But we must trust that in God's wisdom, He is loving us better than we do ourselves.
My family and I are home now, and I am slowly making progress with my health. Both are blessings that I am deeply grateful for, but God has shown me that I don't need health and home to be satisfied. I need Him. God is good, both when He gives and also when He takes away.
Are you despairing about your future? Do you see how the trials of today could prepare you for tomorrow's joy?
Written by Christel Humfrey