What if I told you that when I look back on the darkest time of my life, I also remember it as a time of deep joy?
Most of my friends were having babies while my husband and I were walking through another miscarriage, another loss. Yet, in the midst of unspeakable pain, there was also an indescribable joy that took me by surprise.
It wasn’t my circumstances that brought me joy. Oh, far from. This came from something else. From Someone Else. You see, when I experienced the bitter pain of death twice, especially in my own body, I became overwhelmingly intimate with the fragility of life. I was more aware of how short, and occasionally how bitter, our time is on this earth. This led me to crave for a life that Jesus promised to those who would follow Him. A life where there was no more pain, no more suffering, and no more death.
I desperately wanted heaven. I fixed my eyes on it daily just to get myself out of bed… and then something began to happen. The more I focused on heaven, the more I felt strength renewed to my weary and weak bones. Even though there were negative pregnancy tests, tears, and disappointment, I had more hope in the promises found in the bible than ever before. I actually started believing what I was reading because I had no better choice. I could either believe the words were true or I could allow depression and anxiety to swallow me whole. Verses like this one:
My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble. When you do, think of it as pure joy. Your faith will be tested. You know that when this happens it will produce in you the strength to continue. And you must allow this strength to finish its work. Then you will be all you should be. You will have everything you need. James 1:2-4
And this one:
What we are suffering now is nothing compared with our future glory. Romans 8:18
I know that some of you may be in the middle of ferocious, ugly, seemingly inescapable pain right now. So, when you read something that tells you to “think of it as pure joy”, it might make you more angry than joyful. I’ve been there. But what if those verses are true? What if even the lowest points in your life, the cancer diagnosis, the infidelity in your marriage, the loss of a child, are actually being used to make you perfect and complete, lacking in nothing? And that even the deepest pain will someday be replaced with insurmountable love, peace, and joy?
Are you finding it hard to put your two feet on the floor in the morning? You. Are. Not. Alone. I learned that I had to set my eyes on the finish line and remind myself that heaven is coming, and it’s coming soon. I had to do this every single day, three times a day. It’s important to note that it was not an overnight “fix”, but I can promise you that by continually comparing this short time on earth, with all of its massive thorns and terrifying valleys, to the gifts that are waiting for me in the next world, an unexplainable joy did begin to grow in my heart. Fear did not overtake me, and anxiety did not own me.
Let me be clear, the joy I’m talking about may not always look like “happiness” as we generally understand it. The joy that comes from following Jesus and focusing on heaven is not the same as what our culture defines as joy. In fact, I’d argue that it’s far better, and far more rewarding.
Our culture connects joy to momentary pleasure and circumstantial favor. So, if your relationships are healthy, you love your job, and the sun is shining, you have plenty of reasons to be joyful in the way our society would define joy. But the incredibly neat thing about Jesus’ joy is that nothing in your life could be going your way and yet, with God’s help, you can still find the strength within your soul to sing, to love others, and ultimately, you still have hope.
The darkest times of my life were also times of deep joy because I was desperately gripping onto the hope of heaven. It was my lifeline. And as a I held onto that hope, my head miraculously stayed above the waves. The storm that was sure to engulf me slowed, and the sun appeared brighter than ever before, not because my circumstances changed, but because I realized that even the greatest storm wouldn’t take away my greatest gift, my forever relationship with Jesus.
Ironically, when things are generally going well in my life, this deep joy is harder to hold onto because I am tempted to root my happiness in temporary good fortunes. So, if I want to maintain this gift in the good and the bad times, I have to choose to keep my eyes set on the next world. It’s a literal choice we have to make every day.
Friend, trust me. The joy that comes from hoping in heaven is far greater than the fleeting happiness that comes from enjoying momentary pleasure.