How to Find Joy Even When Your Circumstances Hurt
As I sat in the emergency room beside my dad’s bed, again, as he slept quietly, I asked myself and truthfully asked God, “Where is the joy in this?”
Years before, God and I began a journey. It was a journey to find joy, and I was excited about the trip. I longed to have the joy I felt I had once experienced in my life. As God and I started journeying and I started learning and trusting Him more, the joy began to grow.
But how do you stay on a joy journey when the man you’ve called dad and friend for 40 years begins a battle for his very life? Doesn’t the pursuit of joy get put on a back burner somewhere, or better yet, tossed out with yesterday’s garbage? Certainly, the two paths cannot coexist. Surely God is not asking me to rediscover joy while walking with my dad in his last days? Is He?
Listening to God First
These were the thoughts and questions that ran through my head many times during the four-year period I learned and wrote about joy while I cared for my father, who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
That day in the hospital room, I felt despair trying to creep in as I asked God where the joy was supposed to be. I could see the darkness looming and calling me to abandon my joy pursuit and jump into a deep, black hole of fear and worry.
Thankfully, I sensed God and an invitation from Him as well. He was inviting me to look for the good. Look for the good in order to fight for and keep my joy. In an emergency room, in the middle of the season of my father’s illness, look for the good? Really God? But as I sat in the stillness of the hospital room, I realized God wasn’t just arbitrarily asking me to look for good. To look for good would really mean to look for God. Scripture bears this out:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
Lesson One: Look for the Good
Everything good is a gift from God. God was asking me to look for good and find Him.
God was asking me to fight. Our journey to joy was going to include instructions on how to go toe to toe with the enemy who would try to steal, kill, and destroy my joy. Was I willing to not just discover joy but discover how to fight for it when the time came? Apparently, I had arrived at my first lesson. Would I fight? Would I look for the good?
I decided that I would. I decided to look for good.
I saw the good in the fact that God was with me in the hospital room. He was with me and He was with my dad. And that was good. I could see good in the people God was placing around my dad to care genuinely for him. I could see God and His goodness in the miraculous financial provision God had brought to my dad’s life in his final 10 years of working full time, which enabled him to have the care he needed after his diagnosis.
I saw good in my husband, who prayed for me and worked to provide for our family so I could be free to be with my dad every step of the way. And I saw goodness because my dad could receive his care and live only 10 minutes from my home. All good things in the hospital room in the midst of the hard season we were in. All gifts from my God, who loved me enough to be with me every step of the way. When I looked for goodness, I found God.
If we want to fight for our joy, we first have to be willing to look for the good, and look for God, no matter what is happening to us or around us.
Make no mistake, it won’t just happen. We must choose it, again and again. We are prone to see the difficult all by ourselves and without even trying. Choosing another path will always be available but the choice is up to us.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
As much as we might not want to, this all takes effort on our part. But the results are worth it!
Lesson 2: Fight with Thanks and Praise
Looking for good and looking for God are great first steps to fighting for our joy. But every good fighter needs a formidable one-two punch. We find our knockout blow in Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”
To really eliminate despair, worry and anxiety and keep our joy, we must fight with thanksgiving and praise. When we see goodness and see God, we take an additional and intentional next step and choose to thank God for the good and praise Him for His presence.
We don’t just see the good and see God and keep going like it’s the millionth time we’ve driven down our block. No! We stop and acknowledge the God of the universe is present and at work in our lives and we give thanks for that truth that changes our lives. We stop and say, “Thank you, God, that you are real and you are here. You love me and you are walking with me through it all. Thank you for never leaving me or forsaking me. Thank you for being a good God. And being good to me.”
When we do that, the miraculous takes place. Our circumstances may not change but there is undoubtably a shift. Look back at Psalm 100:4. What happens to our location?
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…”
Thanksgiving and praise usher us into His gates and His courts. More specifically, they usher us into His presence. The truth is, He is always with us and, so truthfully, we are always in His presence. But we aren’t always aware of that fact, are we? We get busy; we get distracted; we forget. But when we stop and look for good, when we give thanks to God for that good, we suddenly know the atmosphere has changed. Something is different. We are aware we are in His presence.
I know what you’re thinking, “But Sara, what about the joy? I thought we were doing all this fighting for our joy.”
I am so glad you asked. We do all this fighting to get us right here. In His presence. I’ll let the Psalmist tell you what happens next:
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11, ESV).
In His presence we find fullness of joy.
Let me SaraPhrase it all for you:
When we look for good, we find God. When we give thanks for God and His goodness, we realize we are in the presence of God and there we find JOY!
When We Find God We Will Find Joy
When we make these choices, we intentionally position ourselves closer to our God, and His joy becomes available to us in real and tangible ways. With joy comes a lightness that results from us acknowledging that God is God. We can rest in His presence and receive His joy because we know He’s got us. He’s got our whole life in His hands and under His control. That allows us to keep our joy when it’s threatened.
Joy is a gift from God. It is for us, always. There will be seasons of life where it naturally flows in and around us—in those times we celebrate and multiply that joy in every way we can. And when the season comes where our joy gets threatened, we lace up our gloves and get ready to fight.
Want to read more from Sara? Check out her book, “Journey to Joy”
Sometimes, finding joy can challenge our relationship with God, especially when we’re deep in less-than-desirable circumstances. Our faith doesn’t make us immune to the pain and grief that life brings, which leaves us to wonder where God fits into it all. If this is you, check out this podcast episode: How to Handle Real-Life Struggles That Challenge Your Faith – 112