In search of...joy
Have you ever sought joy? Ever find that it seems to hide in the shadows of life? I feel that way too often. I think part of it comes from not understanding the link between thanksgiving and joy. I was taught (and it's true) that joy is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but no one ever taught me that the Spirit works in us to a greater degree when we offer the sweet sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, no matter the circumstances. Giving thanks sounds like something we do around a dinner table or once a year in November on the national holiday that seems more like it is about parades and football than thanking God for life, for grace, and so much more. I've read the verses that tell me to offer God a sacrifice of praise. That God is pleased with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, but I didn't understand. Not at a heart level. Give thanks as a sacrifice?
The thing is, that statement is truer and harder than it seems. It is easy to give thanks when life is going well, when things fall into place as we'd hoped or planned. It is easy to give thanks when we are all healthy and life seems good, when our dreams are within reach.
But what of the family who stands at the grave of a 26 year old who fell asleep at the wheel? What of the aged father who weeps over the daughter who was stricken with lung cancer and taken at 45? What of the child who is born with a syndrome that will affect his mental capabilities for the rest of his life? Or of estranged relationships among friends or family? Or...the list could go on and on. Where do we find the joy then?
The Greek word for joy or grace, which is wrapped up in gratitude is Eucharisteo. I've been reading about this joy a lot in my second time through One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Yesterday I read and underlined these words from that book, "Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?"
So true. And yet it is the shadows that try to hide the joy. God gives grace in the shadows. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death, which I believe also means He is with us in the valley of the shadows in life too, because the "shadow of death" is not necessarily death itself. But some things in life can feel like death, can cause us to grieve in such a loss, can hide His presence where joy lives.
But when we sacrifice thanks to Him even in the trials of life, when we give thanks even in the valleys and when joy seems hidden out of sight, we find the buried treasure that is joy. Thanksgiving casts light on the shadows and joy emerges when it is joy in Christ. Gratitude for His grace gives joy.
Maybe we are simply grateful for another day to breathe. Maybe we are grateful for something as simple as a sunset outside our window. Maybe we are grateful that He is hanging onto us, we are on His mind and in His heart and He holds us in the palm of His hand. We find joy in being thankful to Him for the little things and the bigger things. And we find the greatest joy when we sacrifice thanks for the hard things, with eyes of faith for what will be. When we thank Him based on His Word. When we thank Him for keeping promises He has promised to keep but has yet to fulfill. We have greater joy when that thanksgiving accompanies faith that He will see us through the shadows and valleys and hard places. When we know that He can fix what is broken, heal what is hurt, forgive what has offended Him, and wrap us in His arms in unconditional love.
Joy is indeed part of the Spirit's fruit, but if we are honest, we don't always let the Spirit fill our hearts with gratitude so God can pour that joy into us. We give in to doubt and hurt and sadness and pain. We focus on the shadows and live in the dark valleys without the light. We avoid the truth that we are ungrateful.
But I've discovered that every bit of what we avoid in our walk with the Lord can be changed in a heartbeat of faith and thanksgiving. Tears can shut off like the flip of a faucet and joy and peace can take their place. It's starts with a heart willing to look for, search for, even fight for joy. And remembering that it takes sacrifice on our part, sacrifice of thanksgiving and gratitude to find it.