This one comes from my beloved friend, April!
John 15: 9–11 (MSG)
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love. I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.”
When Sarah asked me which fruit of the Spirit I’d like to write about for this post, joy instantly echoed in my mind. Then I laughed. You know nothing about joy, April, I told myself. You basically hate joy.
Yeah. I have problems. Really, though, joy always seems to elude me. A luxury, an illusion, a mythical part of life that only exists for Disney princesses and those forever-perky people you want to punch in the throat. It’s probably obvious then that the prompting to write about this came from the Holy Spirit and not my own heart that’s two sizes too small…
Since I was little, I’ve battled depression that comes and goes in waves, often tidal-sized. Combined with anxiety and AD/HD, my struggle with mental health is as much a part of me as my own arms and legs.
So when I read passages like John 15, I start feeling a little itchy. It’s uncomfortable to think that if I simply practiced obedience and love, I would have joy. I TRY that, and I still never feel happy! So I breeze right through those verses, thinking that while the idea sounds nice, it’s not really possible for me.
It feels shameful to admit that I have to practice joy. That my default is criticalness, worry, stress. That my personality tends toward sadness. But God put me together, purposefully, piece by piece. And he created me knowing that joy is possible for my life. So I’m trying to place the shame at the Lord’s feet, and accept that my struggle might look different from other people’s. Only then can I begin to lean in to how he wants to grow me and to even see the strengths of these aspects of my personality.
I hate to say it, but gratefulness is a great place to start to create a rhythm of joy. For me, it goes even a step further. When I actually remember to practice gratefulness, I still have this underlying, gnawing feeling that I’m overlooking the problems that need fixing, the ways I’m falling short, the VALID and IMPORTANT expectations that are going unmet. This is actually an issue of trust, I think. I don’t trust that God knows best. I don’t trust that he’s in control, and that I’m not in charge of fixing everything. That it is simply GOOD ENOUGH. My worry and fear quickly edge out any possibility of joy.
Only when I’ve learned to abide in the peace that God is in control, that he knows what he’s doing, can I find joy through the everyday and even the tragedy. I’m not saying that faith can be swallowed in daily doses as an antidote to my pain or depression. I can’t escape feeling sad, frustrated, or broken—trust me, I’ve tried. Crappy stuff won’t stop happening as long as I’m on this earth. But can I still choose to trust the nature of God’s goodness in spite of it? Will I cultivate a joy that is not extinguished or even affected by a painful season or a difficult circumstance?
Jesus asks us to actively choose joy alongside our normal human emotions and failings. Maybe not in every single moment, but as an overall life choice to rest simply in the love of the Father, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrifice of a Savior who laid down his very human life that we might have joy.
April Carson is a writer, editor, and, most importantly, a board game enthusiast. Residing in Pasadena with her husband, she works full time at Azusa Pacific University and moonlights as a freelance editor and a poet. The best things in life, in her opinion, are books, music, wine, and friends who know the true extent of your weirdness and still love you anyway.