The season I was in felt scarred. My daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. My son was trapped in an addiction. And I discovered my cancer had returned.
I knew what the Bible said about the joy of the Lord being our strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and I needed to “choose joy.” The problem: I was reaching for joy with all my might, but it kept eluding me. As I began to study joy, I learned some surprising truths about joy stealers—and a powerful joy infuser.
NO. 1: Believing sadness disappoints God
God isn’t disappointed when we’re sad. He not only created us to feel, He also cares about our emotions.
When we hide our feelings, we only add to our pain because our emotions are still there. We may tend to distance ourselves from God in an attempt to hide from the truth that we’re not handling our emotions well. Yet that’s when we need Him most.
In John 16, Jesus told His disciples He was going away. When He saw their sadness, He told them, “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (verse 22). Jesus acknowledged their sadness. He didn’t rebuke them for it. Instead He gave them a future hope.
During that painful year, I sat honestly with God, sharing how I felt. God became my safe place. When I felt overwhelmed, I knew where to go to feel welcomed. He meets us in our sorrows.
No. 2: Feeling we don’t measure up
When we feel inadequate, we can doubt ourselves. Shouldn’t I know what to do? Why is this so hard?
Yet while we may not know the next step, God knows. He knows us. He knows our capabilities, especially when we partner with Him. Understanding this truth allows us to ask ourselves, How can I rely on Jesus more in this moment? In this season? With that loved one?
To combat this joy stealer, we need to take the focus off what we have (or don’t have) to offer and place it in the knowledge that God can accomplish His will through us, even as He directs our steps. Our feelings have no bearing on this truth.
No. 3: The need to be in control
Our son told my husband and me about his battle with addiction, and that phone call led to months of recovery and consequences. I can’t count the times I wanted to step in and try to make it all better, and yet that wasn’t my job.
We can be tempted with the urge to fix and manage and micromanage, yet the more we try to be in control of everyone’s circumstances, the more out of control we feel.
But biblical joy is deep-rooted. It invites us to put our trust in the Source, instead of trying to be the source.
Multiple times I sensed God asking me to step back and stop trying to fix my son’s problems. When we step out of assignments that were never ours, we release the lie that it’s our job to make sure everyone we love never hurts, falls or fails, which is an impossible task. Then we can pick up our assignment and follow God’s lead.
No. 4: Hard seasons disqualify us from God’s promises
One afternoon after surgery, I sat in my hospital room and thought about all the plans I had made and had to cancel. A friend, whom I hadn’t seen in years, dropped by.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “Why are you going through so much?” Then she revealed that she had walked away from her faith.
For the next hour, we talked and prayed. I was honest about my struggles, but also about the beauty of God’s promises and what He was teaching me. As she left, I noticed tears rolling down her cheeks.
A joy infuser
Jesus’ joy didn’t stem from circumstances or what people said or thought about Him. His joy came from doing the will of His Father.
When my cancer returned, my plans were interrupted. But God’s plans were still intact. This was the joy Jesus spoke about—the joy He experienced and offers us. Regardless of what we are going through, God’s plans for us haven’t changed. I now see joy differently. Joy is more than a feeling; it’s a knowing. And nothing can steal that away.