My friend Linda bought me a small Christmas present this year. I pulled the gift out from the tissue paper to find an off-white mug with the word “JOY” embedded into the ceramic. I smiled to myself, remembering the conversation we’d had after I openly admitted, “I’m not a joyful person.”
Let’s just embrace that elephant in the room. Joy doesn’t come easily for me. My mother? She’s Joy personified. She’s that character in the Inside Out movie. She views every journey outside the front door to be an adventure and she is never without her kazoo and colored pencils.
Me on the other hand? My feelings are fragile. My middle name is basically “melancholy.” I have a hard time enjoying moments because I’m so caught up in thinking about the fact that they’ll end sometime soon. I’m morbid and it’s easy for me to get discouraged. These are all things I’m working on daily. I haul them into my hour with God daily and I basically say, “Here’s the junk. You deal with it.”
Joy just isn’t my strongest suit but I can write you a sad love story where all the characters die any day.
I can remember the days and weeks leading up to the crash I experienced on November 18, 2014. The one where depression overtook my existence. It’s crazy how I can look back and see all the holes in the timeline, all the warning signs I was avoiding. I thought things were good (as good as they could be, at least). I thought I was okay.
Sometimes it takes you walking out of the woods to be able to look back and realize you were surrounded by trees for much longer than you knew.
I remember this one day in particular where I went to my favorite coffee shop to do my daily studies. I remember studying the concept of “joy” because it was so absent in my life. I thought if I just studied it long enough, if I learned everything there was to know about that word, then I would eventually stumble into it. I thought Joy was like a math problem -- I just needed to sit with it long enough to understand and eventually solve it.
It was bad theology to tell myself that if I just sat with the Bible long enough then I would eventually run into Joy. I legitimately thought in my depressed mind that it would be a noble cause to shut myself away from the rest of the world so I could go on a spiritual pilgrimage to find Joy.
It was harmful thinking for the fact that, especially at that time in my life, I needed medical help and a tribe of people to fight alongside me more than I needed to isolate myself in a corner and call it a spiritual pilgrimage.
I was doing it all wrong and my pursuit of God was actually hurting me. I was turning my faith into a legalistic religion by thinking a) God was far from me because I didn’t feel joyful b) Joy was something I had to attain, something I had to muster up on my own and c) I was broken because I could not count all my joys like everyone else.
And when I didn’t feel it, when the “Joy” didn’t come for me to count, I eventually tired out and distanced myself from God. This was a cyclical habit. I was in. I was out. I was near. I was far.
I never once thought or imagined that my spirit of melancholy might be the means by which God was planning to draw me closer to himself than ever before.
SOMETIMES IT TAKES YOU WALKING OUT OF THE WOODS TO BE ABLE TO LOOK BACK AND REALIZE YOU WERE SURROUNDED BY TREES FOR MUCH LONGER THAN YOU KNEW.
I’m learning faith isn’t about all the things I do right. If it was all in my power to muster up the right thoughts and feelings then what would be the point? Why would I need God in the first place? I could easily take over the show on my own.
It’s not up to me to track down Joy. It’s not up to me to always be “feeling it.” Joy isn’t a fleeting feeling, it’s a constant that belongs to you. It’s a deep well inside of you. It’s a given and you might just need to trust you have it instead of spending the most precious of your hours trying to track it down.
I’ve had a batch of days lately where I haven’t been “feeling it.” I would rather stay in bed. I would rather pull up a chair and sit in my feelings. I was laying in bed just the other day and thinking to myself, “The list of things I need to do is so long and I just feel sad.” It was in that moment I realized I don’t have to “feel” a certain way to carry on. I don’t have to wait for deep-seated joy or happiness to get up and do the next small thing.
So that’s exactly what I did. I got up. I did my makeup and my hair. I put on a new shirt. I put on shoes. I made the coffee. And I set out to accomplish the smallest thing on my to-do list.
Joy feeling lost? Proceed anyway. It’s there.
As a little girl, I was obsessed with the “Where’s Waldo” books and now I can’t seem to understand why. Like, why did I spend so much time squirreled away in the corner of the public library looking for a tall man with wiry glasses and a striped sweater? Why was I so amused by all the imposters in their caps and glasses?
Everyone would surely want their money back if Waldo wasn’t drawn into every page on that book. That would be a failed premise. Waldo isn’t always the easiest to spot but he is always, always in the picture even when you can’t find him.
I think Joy is a bit like Waldo -- always there, somewhere on the page, even when you can’t see it.
I'VE STARTED TO BELIEVE THAT JOY IS SIMPLY THE ROOTED KNOWING THAT GOD IS WITH ME. NO MATTER WHAT. ALWAYS WITH ME. ALWAYS AVAILABLE.
The only thing that has ever worked for me on my most joy-less days is abandoning the hunt for joy and look to God instead. That’s it. Look “to” God because you don’t have to look “for” God. He’s not hiding and he ain’t lost.
That’s the only sage wisdom I’ve got. I’ve stopped looking at my daily reading as something to check off a list and I’ve said to myself, “No matter how I feel -- I am going to do this every single day. This is my number one priority and God is going to meet me every time.”
You’re allowed to make that bold of a claim. You are allowed to expect God to show up. He will never let you down in that regard, even if you don’t “feel” like it.
But here’s the challenge. I challenge you to show up to the text and to repeat this prayer:
God, I am not feeling it today. I am tired, sad, ___(fill in the blank), and not really feeling the joy. But I know you’re good and I know you always have something for me. So open my eyes to the things you want me to see. I trust you and I need you today.
You might not get the answers you’re searching for today. God might teach you things you didn’t know you needed to know. But He will always show you something. His words are always at work. And that’s a small joy I can count on every single day.
I’ve started to believe that joy is simply the rooted knowing that God is with me. No matter what. Always with me. Always available. It’s ditching the idea that God is one move away from packing up a suitcase and hightailing it out of town. That was a limiting belief that I’ve had to work really hard to get rid of. I’ve had to verbally say to myself, out loud, “Just because you don’t feel God doesn’t mean He isn’t here.”
You see, I think the more accurate picture of God is one where He’s always waiting in the window for you.
I see him in my mind, sitting in a booth at the diner with the neon sign that blinks “24/7,” simply waiting for me to walk inside and slide across the booth to sit across from Him. He has already ordered the coffee and breakfast food. He’s already waiting to talk it all through. He sees me and knows me as the impatient, fidgety young woman that I am and He wants me just as I am in this moment.
I can see Him now, grabbing my hands from across the booth and placing them gently on the table, enveloping them in His big, God hands and saying softly to me, “Eyes on Me, girl. Just keep your eyes on Me. I’ve got you.”
I’ve got you.
I’ve got you.