It's my pleasure to turn over my blog today to my sweet friend Melinda Means. She's an author, speaker, and a true warrior. For her, finding true joy has been a hard-fought battle.
You won't want to miss her encouraging words today.
A couple months ago, I traveled to Florida to speak at a women's conference led by Melinda. It was a joy to partner in ministry with her.
Recently, Melinda and I recorded a webcast entitled "Happiness While You're Hurting." You can view that below.
Finding Joy in Our Broken Journeys
By Melinda Means
I've always wanted the big red bow.
That's what I call it.
For years, I've listened to women give their testimonies at church, retreats and conferences. Powerful accounts of struggles in their marriages, with their children, with their health.
Most of the time, their talks end with the "big red bow": They went through painful and difficult circumstances, but God intervened and now everything is really awesome and wonderful.
Don't get me wrong. We need those stories! They are a testament to God's power to transform hearts and lives. They provide us with hope!
But what do we do if we're still waiting for our "big red bow"?What if our "big red bow" never comes?
I ask this question from heartwrenching experience. After 20 years of chronic pain, I'm still waiting for the healing I've begged for. After a lengthy season of wandering, I'm still waiting for a dearly loved child to completely find the way. After 16 years of parenting a child with serious health conditions, I'm still waiting for him to own his disease.
I've often unconsciously put my joy on hold. "I'll be happy when I feel better ..." "I'll be happy when my child get through this rough patch ..." "I'll be happy when I get through this dark time ..."
What I really meant was "I'll be happy if." My joy was far too dependent on my circumstances. Which meant I didn't have much joy.
Not too long, I began to hear God say to me, "Melinda, you've done a great job enduring the struggles. You've been very good at persevering. But I want you to have joy."
Joy in the middle of the struggle? Honestly, when Paul writes in James, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds," I kind of assumed he'd bumped his head in one of those shipwrecks.
I've tried to find joy in believing "this is for my good" or "God has a plan" or that one day in heaven all the pain and struggle would be gone. Sometimes that helped, but it all seemed very "pie in the sky." My reality was and is pain. My reality is hard circumstances in the here and now.
Sometimes the only thing that seems real and eternal is our struggle.
But over this last year, I've begun to experience joy.Real joy. Not enough of it, mind you, but I'm getting there. It's not because my circumstances have changed (they haven't). In fact, this last year has been the hardest of my life.
Sometimes it's difficult to explain how the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. But as my circumstances got darker, I realized that He—not my circumstances—was my only hope for real and lasting joy. As I sought Him, instead of results or outcomes, He gave me an overwhelming sense of His love for me ... yes, right in the midst of my darkest season.
And I began to feel joy.
He gave me eyes to see how He was working in my pain ... how He had been working in my pain all along. Just like Jesus was walking beside the men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with us on our broken, sorrow-filled journeys.
Often, we just don't recognize Him.
But when we do—when we really tune into His presence and rely on His unlimited resources—we can find the joy that crazy Paul guy talks about.
Here are a few ways that have made all the difference for me:
Remember His faithfulness.
When we're in pain, our perspective often goes right out the window. We wonder, "Where is God now?" "Why isn't He helping me today?"
It helps to look back at yesterday. When my son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, I was devastated. I couldn't imagine what his life would look like. I was overwhelmed with how we would absorb all the financial, emotional and medical challenges.
Fast-forward 16 years. Micah is a baseball-playing honors student. He has had his challenges. They are ongoing. But God has met us in every one. Provided above and beyond our needs.
When I begin to feel my circumstances (both big and little) drain my joy, I reflect back on how He met me in the last jam, the last bad day, the last heartache.
It's changed my perspective. Now, I'm not saying I do this every time, but more and more I look at challenges and overwhelming tasks with a sense of adventure. I think, This scares me. But I've seen the amazing things God has done in the past. Wonder how He's going to work this time?
Savor His Sweetness.
Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed." Pain is such a paradox, isn't it? On the one hand, our human flesh craves and cries out for comfort. On the other hand, pain —brokenheartedness—is where we seem to experience and appreciate the sweetness of God most powerfully.
It's in the "little" revelations He gives us that alter our perspective in big ways. It's in the way He speaks directly through His Word to heal those tender places and nagging doubts that we may have not revealed to anyone, even ourselves.
When God doesn't relieve our pain, He can seem far away. Our inclination to feel entitled to a certain outcome can create a barrier in our hearts between us and God, blinding us to the sweetness right there in front of us.
Rest in His trustworthiness.
My emotions often get the best of me. I look at my circumstances and believe God doesn't love me—at least not as much as that girl over there whose life seems so much easier than mine. And yet God keeps whispering a game-changing truth to my heart: "You can trust the One who died for you."
I don't see the big picture. I don't understand why God is allowing certain things, but I do know this: He doesn't play favorites. He died for all of us. As St. Augustine said, "He loves each of us as if there was only one of us." Every day I wake up and say, "I choose to trust You, Jesus."
When I trust, I can rest. And rest brings joy.
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 43:19: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
Humanly, I want God to do "a new thing" in my circumstances. Often, the "new thing" He wants to do is in me. As we cling to Him tightly, knowing He is our only hope, it naturally results in a deeper relationship with Him. There, we find unshakeable joy.
Joy much greater and lasting than if we'd never walked our broken roads.
Happiness While You're Hurting
Hey friends. Jennifer here.
Below is a webcast that Melinda and I created, just for you. (Email subscribers might need to click here to view the video.)
We answered questions that many of you specifically asked us to address, questions like: How can I find happiness during hard times? If I'm not happy, is God punishing me? What are practical steps I can take today to cultivate more happiness in my life?
Melinda Means is a weary soul in need of refreshment from the only Source who can quench our thirst. After years of chronic pain and questioning God’s plan, she has found the joy of seeking the Healer more than the healing.
In Invisible Wounds, Melinda draws from her long history with chronic illness—hers and her son’s—as she tackles the tough spiritual questions and dark, raw emotions so many women feel when they’re experiencing seemingly unending pain and difficulty.
This book also includes the stories of seven brave, beautiful women who transparently share their invisible wounds.Ultimately, each of our long, lonely journeys has led us to the unshakeable hope that heals.