Joy in the Hard Things
It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks.
A lot has gone on in the country that has raised the temperature for all the right reasons. Because of the events in Minneapolis between some police and an individual who did not deserve the treatment he received and certainly not death– with people looking on, unmoved–It was sickening. And because that event built upon another recent murder of a jogger, we have had a series of conversations at our house with our teen boys that a parent should never have to have. These are hard things.
These difficult issues are ones that need a spiritual remedy. I do not propose solutions here, but I am living as part of it as we are raising a generation from three different continents and three different races all living in harmony under the same roof. Gospel living is the call to difficult roles and harrowing feats. It requires Christians to hear what God would have us do in the impossible nature of it and respond by acting upon it.
We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed— but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:39).
I was just dialoguing this week with a dear friend who is doing just this. She was catching me up on some difficulties they have been experiencing. These were serious life-shattering, family-destroying stressors they invited in by God’s design. And she said it just about liked to destroy her and that she didn’t know if they were going to make it through. Then she asked how I got through times like those.
Her question was priceless because she didn’t ask if I had experienced the darkness, wanted to know how I had come through to the other side of it. She knows there is joy in the hard things. It’s just difficult to find sometimes.
Because my social media feeds are blowing up with all sorts of negativity, with questions without solutions that all point back to Gospel issues, I believe now is a good time to focus on five steps for finding joy in the hard things.
Step #1: Recognize We are Called to Some Things that are Just Hard
Some things are just hard. It’s not going away. You may continue to hurt. The relationship may stay rocky. The brokenness might remain. The blind may not see. My daughter who has all sorts of deficiencies will have all of her difficulties until heaven. It doesn’t mean we give up, but a recognition that HARD is part of the deal for Gospel purposes greater than ourselves. James 1:1 – tells us to
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Yesterday was supposed to be Graduation Day for our special need’s daughter. It was scheduled, then rescheduled for July. The district then moved it back to last night where it was rained out. We sat in the parking lot for an hour in a storm.
I honestly can’t believe we are here, awaiting her graduation. To think of where we have come from to this point with her is truly a work of God. We picked up a scrawny little 40 lb nine-year-old girl who had never been to school with poor language skills in the backwoods of China wit had all sorts of weird issues we learned daily and no mental retrieval system. For instance, you learn apple is different from rock, or fork from a spoon. Your brain automatically begins to file these things in categories. It became apparent over those first weeks and months she was not learning anything. Nothing. No language, not how to put on her clothes, or how to choose fork over spoon. It was bizarre. But I had just finished a Ph.D. with a bazillion hours in learning theory. After trying all sorts of whatnot, I finally came in and told my husband that I didn’t think her brain knew how to file. And that changed everything.
Over the years God has defied all current research and has taught us what to do with her. Often our friends and family could not understand. It didn’t sound rational, believable, or make sense. So, I learned to keep silent. However, this particular situation of mine is not unique. Any time you choose to do hard things it can become a lonely journey that is absent of joy.
I think one of the most therapeutic pieces of Scripture for me became Paul saying to Timothy –
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 2 Timothy 4:16
Knowing that there are times in the journey we will experience loneliness; when those we feel should have been there, are not–when there is no one else who gets it–maturity in the hard places says, “It’s okay. Let it not be counted against them.”
But this reality is not without hope because Paul doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end joylessly. Even in a season when people cannot be there, you will not be alone. There is hope. That is the assurance here:
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.
God has always been there just like this. And He will be there for you. The Lord will stand by you and strengthen you. There could be a time when you are alone, but the Lord will be with you. Over and over, example after example, we find this to be true across the whole Word of God. But I pray God will grant you physical encouragement of some sort. Step two not to Go it Alone.
Step #2 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Don’t Go it Alone
I always encourage people to find someone at least ten years ahead of them, preferably that you can meet physically. Maybe if not ahead of you in years, experience. Pick their brains. Make sure that are Godly, albeit imperfect Jesus pursing, hard thing doers with some tire marks on them. This is not the moment to look at a peer unless they have been doing what you know you need for at least five or more years. This is a Strange-ism. And I’m not a counselor. It’s just my uneducated, personal opinion for what has worked well for us.
Maybe you can’t find that person physically. There may be a season where there isn’t anyone. The world is in your hands, literally. Ask God to show you what to do and who to trust with your life. He knows what you need and will lead you to whom you need to entrust yourself.
Step #3 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Find Strength in God
Every single day. Right now you may be in a dark place. You might be tired. There might not be any laughter or joy to speak of. We spent through some of the darkest years of our lives living out God’s call in this particular hard space, and so did our kids at the time. But daily this is how I find joy.
Every day I take myself to a quiet place, lay all of my junk, my requests, my thoughts, and my thank you’s (because there are always things to be thankful for) before Him. I have Scriptures written out for my own words fail me often. These I pray. Afterward, I read the Bible. Every single day.
It sounds like it’s not going to make a difference. Nonetheless, this is where my strength is found. It’s like throwing mud at a chain-linked fence. Every day a little bit more sticks. It’s not automatic transformation but little by little, eventual effectual change.
Step #4 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Read Dead People
Over and over, year after year, day after day crisis upon crisis God has met me on a page through the life well lived. It’s one thing to write a book, hold a position, have a platform that is commanding and influential where people look to you for biblical counsel, wisdom, and direction in your lifetime. But how often have we witnessed the fallen–those you never would have expected–suddenly in the headlines for scandalous si? It’s tragic and true.
Not so with the dead. This is not the plight of people who lived imperfectly but served God faithfully and finished well. That’s what I’m talking about. Those are the ones to read and learn from and be encouraged by. Plus, there are so many testimonies to be discovered–lessons still relevant today from three hundred years ago. So get yourself in a book. Be encouraged. Find your joy in comradery with those lining the walkways of Heaven cheering for until your entry. Leading you in what we will address in Step Five.
Step #5 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Let Agape Win
The celebrating season has been weird for me. But if I were honest I haven’t been in a celebratory mood. It’s been a difficult year with this graduating one. In fact, my mother and I were talking recently when she asked me what they should gift the graduation girl. My reply was that they should purchase nothing. “Today,” I said, “she gets nothing.” It has been the same painful cycle over and over. The same circular conversations again and again that no one else encounters outside of our home– outside of these relationships. It’s just the nature of the beast of the disorders she possesses.
The illustration may be somewhat non-traditional, it’s fairly accurate. She’s like the cute pet that crawls into your lap purring all the while when she suddenly and severely bites you to the bone without cause. Then licks her paws, acting like it wasn’t her. To the point, it’s hard to let that kind of person get near you, especially in your lap, because that sort of biting draws blood. Add the smile, pulls out my irritation, and when the denial comes- pure anger erupts. And we all know it’s never going to change. And there is no solution.
This year I’m tired of getting bit. No one else gets bit but us.
My mom righty replied with, “Okay, we’ll talk about it later.” She can have that response because she knows. She knows we are, indeed, going to celebrate, and celebrate big. Joy will overcome. Agape will win.
Agape is this love for another that is not dependent upon a feeling. It doesn’t matter if you just got bit for the 455th time. It’s that love of best interest.
It’s the love God showed us when he sent his son to die for us:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
It’s also the kind of love God requires of us toward Him in the greatest Commandment – Deut. 6:5 –
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Its what I have come to know as the appropriate response for all God has done for me. Yet that is not the end. It is also the love I am to show my neighbor. And that’s where we are seeing the breakdown right now in America. And in our homes. Our neighborhoods. And across the globe.
Loving God is Easier than Loving You
Sometimes loving God is much easier because He is so worthy of my affection and all of my devotion – and more. But the cute pet that just bit my finger half to death for the 456th time this year? That one who will be with me till my dying breath, dependent on me to give selflessly until eternity– unable to offer anything in return but bite after bite and denial upon denial of wrongdoing or guilt?
That one is difficult to agape.
But this is us. It’s what most of us do to God. He is AGAPE. The very embodiment.
Yet I am unable to it most days in the hard places of my life. By gritting my teeth and digging down a little deeper it is impossible. Instead, I beg for God to supernaturally give this love through me. To change whatever needs to be changed, transform whatever needs to be remade or undone because I.Cannot.Agape. in the hard places of my life by myself.
So I stay on my knees daily, and I fail often. I have moments like those I expressed to you with my mom. I try not to make any major decisions in those moments or engage in cataclysmic relational altercations. But through the years, this is what I am learning.
Agape looks beyond what is typically valued as “lovable,” and determines to love the unlovable even at great personal cost. It is most purely expressed when we give it to those from whom we have nothing to gain. When we show love to those who can do nothing for us, we reflect the love of God shown to us in Christ. In His Image – by Jen Wilkins
So, here is the joy. The joy is participating in demonstrating exactly this in the hard places of your life. In society and day in which we live. By God’s design, He has placed you in these situations, and by His grace, He is conforming you and molding you to navigate them to reflect the love we have received. There is method to the madness even when it does not appear so.
I don’t know how this falls on you today.
We are going to celebrate. And celebrate big! This week. In a stadium and then again in a park. I’ve purchased the presents, ordered the food, rented the pavilion, and sent out the invitations. Biting or no biting — on my knees agape will prevail.
In our corner of the world seeing all that God had done across the past twelve years is nothing short of miraculous. He exceeds my expectations– even in the nitty-gritty details of life. I am certain He is able to bring joy in the hard things of your life as well.
with much affection and for His Glory,
You can also find this blog topic in the form of a podcast under the same title, Joy in the Hard Things, here if you would like to listen or share the information with a friend.
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