It took three roller-coaster years. But finally our neighbors brought home the little boy they’d been trying to adopt since his birth. He was all smiles as his new mom held him on her hip. “How’s it going?” I asked as his dad sat next to me. We watched his wife nuzzle the boy’s tummy, saw him giggle in response… then watched their biological four-year-old yank a shoe off his new little brother and slam it to the ground. His dad sighed. “We’ve had some great days with unbelievably bad moments.”
Such honesty. Such joy mixed with struggle.
Depression is the opposite: unbelievably bad days with some good moments. Such struggle mixed with joy.
The problem is, the struggle is so great, it’s easy to miss the joy.
Lately, I’ve felt that way watching the news. The divisiveness. The hate. The inability to carry on civil conversations.
As I watch our country struggle, I can’t help but wonder, “Where is the joy?”
When God asks us to be His bride, He also bestows upon us all the qualities of a bride. Including joy. But often these days, I find that I am not a joyful bride of Christ any more than I was a joyful bride of Mark.
Moments before the doors opened for my walk down the aisle, several things converged to create a most unhappy, most desperate bride:
- My stomach ulcer burned, sending waves of nausea through me.
- For the first time in the engagement process, it suddenly dawned on me that I was binding myself to Mark. FOR. THE. REST. OF. MY. LIFE! Holy shit!
- In that special mother-daughter moment when I pinned on her corsage, my mother gave me her final words of marital advice: “All men cheat. Don’t get your hopes up.” Gee thanks, Mom!
Personal experience aside, I know that a bride is supposed to be joyful. But sometimes, life is too hard to be joyful. And besides, I don’t exactly have a ra-ra cheerleader personality. Did God really expect me to put on a cheery mask and gleefully exclaim, “Praise the Lord!” I know Christians like that and, quite frankly, find them nauseating.
So why don’t I feel full of joy as His bride? Why do I feel so much worry,
instead of joy?
As I considered that question, I discovered something unexpected: I realized I am not always not joyful. Despite the cringing in my English-teacher heart, I received the realization in that double-negative form–I do not always have no joy.
This allowed me to change the direction of my thoughts to the non-double-negative statement: I feel the joy of being Christ’s bride sometimes.
Okay, then, when? When am I filled with joy over my Groom?
It boils down to focus. When my mind and my heart are turned toward the One I love, I feel joy. When I lose focus on Him, I lose joy.
It’s that simple…
and that hard.
How can I stay focused on Him–and experience the full joy of that relationship–amid the busyness and chaos and demands and pain and grief of everyday life?
The good news is that God knows I can’t. That’s why He promised to place His joy in me so that my joy will be complete (John 15:11).
I know the joy is there because it wells up in my heart at times. So often when I marvel at God’s handiwork in nature, I feel the joy of my relationship with Creator God. Who but God could create Mono Lake with just the right combination of calcium and carbonates to sculpt other-worldly tufa towers that glow yellow and orange in the rising sun?
When I witness such a wonder of nature, “I sing for joy at the works of [God’s] hands” (Ps. 92:4). I’m delighted–and amazed–that the One who creates such beauty chose me to be His bride.
I also feel joy when I remember the love He lavishes on me. Over and over, He has proven His love for me, through His presence and protection, His forgiveness and acceptance, His gifts to me and His delight in me. When I think of the ultimate sacrifice He made for me–dying on the cross for my salvation–the depth, the vastness of Christ’s love fills me with joy.
But am I joyful over the journey I’ve embarked upon with my Groom?
In reality, I don’t live every moment of my journey in a euphoric state. (And in my post-menopausal stage of life, that sounds a bit exhausting!)
But it does bubble up. And if the joy is there in moments, it’s there at all times.
Even when I watch the news:
Thousands of people–political differences set aside–gather to marvel at the wonder of a solar eclipse.
Men form a human chain in the dangerous flood waters of Texas to rescue an elderly man trapped in his truck.
Churches open their doors to house and feed those displaced by the hurricane.
We are still capable of being awed by God. Still capable of compassion.
There is hope.
There is joy in moments.
Father, open our hearts so that we are aware of these moments of joy. Help us to be fully present to them, to be “clothed… with joy that [our hearts] may sing your praises and not be silent” (Ps. 30:11-12).
Do you have a moment of joy to share?