“When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” James 1:2 NLT
This thing called “joy” was always an enigma to me. I heard people talk of it. It has been said that happiness and joy are not the same thing. I knew what happiness was. I did not know what joy was, but I knew this was not it.
Depression ran long and deep in my family, and though I tried, I could not escape its grip. It slipped in and caught me unaware. It was like a mold: I never saw it coming and no matter what I did, it might lessen temporarily, but I couldn’t seem to make it leave permanently and regain my former unblemished life.
“As a he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7 (NLV)
I knew from my nearly two decades of work as a clinical psychologist that our thoughts have a very powerful effect on our beliefs and our behaviors. I very much disliked giving my patients diagnoses, because too often I saw them use those labels as excuses rather than explanations or motivations for change.
We often cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our response or our reactions. And our responses directly influence the outcome.
When I was struggling, I remembered hearing myself respond to someone’s question, “I didn’t have a choice.” As the words effortlessly flowed across my lips, not a millisecond later my body reflexively shuddered. It was if my mind, my mouth, and my heart knew that there had been a seismic disconnect in that exchange.
There came a point when I had to face myself in the mirror and decide how I was going to respond.
Was I going to let depression define me? Was I a depressed person or was I a person experiencing depression?
Did I truly want joy bad enough to seek after it, or was I going to continue to believe the lie that I was a victim of my circumstances?
I had worked with enough patients, and I had seen enough different scenarios play out with various friends and family members to know…. It was my choice. To a very large extent, I had to take responsibility for the outcome.
Rather than keeping my eyes on my problems and getting lulled into self-pity parties which I had never seen accomplish anything but make depression worse, I had to determine to keep my eyes on Him.
Don’t let me fool you…it wasn’t always easy. Some days were so painful and hard…it made me wonder if maybe some of us (me) were just joy-immune.
But that was just another lie of the enemy…a lie I had believed for far too long. And I was finally sick of it. I deserved better than that! My Savior died so that I could have better than that!
“I have told you these things so that you can have the same joy I have and so that your joy will be the fullest possible joy!” (John 15:11 New Century Version, emphasis mine)
That means it’s possible for me to not just experience joy, but to have a joy-filled life. And for you too. God said it. It’s true. Do you believe it?
The Lord began to impress upon my heart that Thanksgiving is the Doorway to Joy.
For an extended period of time, it seemed that I repeatedly came across the verse, “I will worship you, and offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 116:17 Living). But it always struck me with a twinge of curiosity. A sacrifice of thanksgiving?
The more I reflected and “medicated” on this verse, the more I realized that when we come to God with a thankful heart, we are offering a sacrifice. At least momentarily, we sacrifice our desires in exchange for what He deserves. We sacrifice our pride as we recognize His majesty. We sacrifice our attitude of self-sufficiency, as we humble ourselves and acknowledge His sovereignty. We come before him with gratitude and praise, recognizing that He is the one who provides all blessings. Without His provision, we literally would have nothing. It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Slowly, bit by bit, day by day, I began to appreciate this more and more. I became more determined to seek God, and praise him and thank Him in advance for His answers. I was going to “speak of future events with as much certainty as though they were already past.” (Romans 4:17b)
I would no longer define myself as a depressed person. No! I AM joyful! And in doing so, it fostered a joy-producing mindset, not a joy-reducing mindset.
It’s been a journey, and I’m still learning. And though at times the journey has been so very hard, I am thankful for the lessons He has taught me, and continues to teach me along the way. I am most especially grateful for the journey into joy.
What has helped your journey into joy?