Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Choosing Joy even when it's difficult

Being cooped up in the house during the pandemic has been challenging. Until a few days ago, I'd done reasonably well but realized I wasn't myself. Usually, I'm upbeat and happy but I'd found myself struggling with feelings of hopelessness and depression. That's when I realized, I'd lost my joy. 

These days, it's hard to find joy. Being separated from friends and loved ones is awkward and painful, but for someone with cancer related low immunity, it's not only a necessity, it could be detrimental to my health.

We've had a lot of gloomy, rainy days lately, too, due to a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic. Those gray days have also added to feelings of sadness.

I realized I'd experienced these feelings before, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Back then, my physical maladies caused me to revel in self- pity. I was so me focused, I couldn't see anything else.

It took a while to realize what was happening. Becoming so comfortable with those feelings, I wore them like a heavy, woolen cloak. Days and days, I'd let the weight of that thick garment smother me but then, something happened.

One morning, as I sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and looking out the window at a beautiful sunny day, I realized I'd lost my joy. The longer I sat there, the more I thought. "Where had my joy gone," I wondered, "And when had I lost it?"

Although I couldn't pinpoint a time and date, I knew it had to have been around the time of my diagnosis because that's when it felt like my world had fallen apart. And though it had been six years since surgery, I was still struggling with my emotions.

That's when I realized I had to do something about it. I had to get my joy back. There was no way I was willing to live under a cloak of darkness.

But I didn't know where to start or what to do. So I began to pray. I asked God to help me find my joy again and in my spirit, I felt Him speak to me, "Praise Me."

I thought I did a pretty good job of that already. I always got up early and spent the first part of my morning with Him. I made sure to spend time in the Word meditating. I always took time to pray but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, I was usually asking God to answer my needs and requests for those I loved rather than focusing on His character, His goodness, His mercy, and His grace.

So I decided that had to change. I was going to find my joy by focusing all my attention on Jesus. To do that, I was going to have to make myself intentionally focus on His love and I was going to have to shift my perspective. I was going adopt an attitude of gratitude.

Looking outside the kitchen window, I saw some beautiful red and white flowers on a plant my son had recently given me. "Thank you, Lord, for your beauty in nature. Thank you that my son wanted to give me a gift. Thank you he chose to come visit me." A few minutes later, two little house wrens jumped on top of my charcoal grill and began to tweet the most cheerful song to each other. "Oh, if I could have joy like that," I said, "Lord, I would be so happy!" Again, He spoke to my heart, "Praise Me."

Picking up my iPhone, I quickly found the My Music icon and asked Siri to find a praise and worship station. I wasn't in the mood for lyrics, so I chose an instrumental station. As I listened, an old familiar favorite began to play, "Bless the Lord, O, my soul" by Matt Redman.

As I listened to the words, my heart began to calm and I felt myself began to weep. All those feelings of pent up sadness began to flee. The light of worship was dispelling the darkness. My heart, in tune with His, was exactly where it should be - He focused instead of me focused.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in seasons where we must hunt for joy. During those times, it's important to be intentional about looking for reasons to express gratitude. Often, it's hard work. When a person is feeling down and depressed, the last thing one wants to do is express thanks. But it's in the thanking that joy explodes. Just like striking a match to a bundle of dry kindling, one small ember gives way to a blazing fire. We must be willing to pick up the match and strike it. To do that, one has to deliberately choose.

I'm so thankful God helped me realize how to regain my joy. My match was tapping on a cellphone app and allowing the words of a song to rekindle the fire of joy inside. As I sang along to the instrumental music, the words ministered to my heart as I praised God.

I made a mental note to choose joy. I knew this would become a discipline in my life but it would take practice. One of the ways I could implement this new exercise into my life would be to start each day by writing down three things for which I was thankful. I chose to end the day the same way.

As I've intentionally searched for reasons to be grateful, I've been able to see more clearly that God continually blesses me each day.

If there are two words I want you to take away from this post, they'd be - CHOOSE JOY. Though they seem simple, they take effort. But if you're willing to work at it, soon you'll find the practice of daily gratitude something you enjoy immensely. Before you know it, it won't seem like work any more, you'll see things and realize His great blessings without much effort at all.

We serve a good, good Father. He enjoys blessing us. That's why I think the psalmist wrote, "But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel." Psalm 22:3

When we worship, the presence of the Lord dwells among us. That feeling of complete peace and love is enough to make any heart sing with joy. Try it! If you've lost your joy, you can find it again. I promise.

Today and every day, choose joy.

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