I have a friend going through a difficult time right now.
She posed the question to me – “How can I be joyful right now?”
My first thought was, that she may have to experience the pain, and that joy was not an expectation she needed to have on herself right now.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about her question.
I grew up in the Christian tradition, and within the Christian tradition there is this idea that we should be able to have joy in our pain and rejoice in our suffering.
But what did that mean? Although it sounds really nice, having joy when you face some kind of tragedy in your life, also sounds a little crazy.
I think as humans, we are supposed to feel pain. And sometimes it takes a long time until we feel healed from that pain. To just snap out of it and be joyful, just didn’t seem right to me.
So as I pondered this question, I wondered, maybe I have the wrong definition of joy? Maybe I am understanding it all wrong? Or maybe there are different kinds of joy – or a different side of joy I am missing?
A Different Understanding of Joy
As my questions always lead me to do, I embarked on a quest to gain a better understanding of joy.
In my quest for understanding, I came across the verse James 1:2-4.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”
We should consider facing trials pure joy? What?
I think we all probably know that joy and happiness are different things, but if I am being perfectly honest, I have confused the two before.
That verse makes absolutely no sense, if we are thinking of joy and happiness as the same thing. Suffering is called suffering, because it is not a state of happiness!
Although the Greek understanding of joy was related to delight, when I dug a little further, I found that that the Hebrew understanding of the word Joy was centered around the idea of hope.
To have joy in suffering was to have hope in suffering.
Hope in Suffering
I don’t think it is a hope that everything is going to work out exactly as planned or in our perfect ideal image of it, because we all know, that is not always how life goes.
But I think it is a hope that dark can be turned to light.
Hope that the most horrific events can be transformed into something beautiful. And that the pain is transforming you in ways you cannot quite understand yet. It is a trust that amazing work is being done within you.
Just to be clear, I do not believe that God causes tragedy in our lives. I would have trouble getting behind that kind of theology. But I think God can transform and redeem anything. I think God can breathe new life into the darkest situations, and breathe new life into the most broken people.
When we are in pain, we may not be able to feel that in the moment, and that’s okay. I think grief, anger, and sadness are completely appropriate emotions for when we are going through a difficult time. I don’t think we should try to ignore these emotions.
Where I believe joy comes in – is the voice within the brokenness that tells us there is still hope in all of this. This is not the end. There is life on the other side of suffering, if we are able to hold out for it. And in the process, we are being transformed in ways we cannot even imagine.
The Gifts of Suffering
Romans 5:3 also comes to mind. “We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Pain brings many gifts. We never seek pain. We don’t chase after suffering, nor should we. But when it does happen, there are gifts that come with pain, that we do not receive in everyday life when things are going as planned.
We seek God differently in pain. We deepen friendships and relationships in pain. We receive gifts of perspective, growth, and compassion.
I think it may be impossible to feel happy in suffering. But I think we will be in a better place if we can assign meaning to our suffering, and trust that it is growing and changing us, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.
And to hold onto a belief that not only is there something good on the other side, but that some day, this pain can be used to help others. That this pain will someday turn into passion that will motivate you toward a cause. It is true, it is often the people that have faced the most pain that make the biggest impact on the world.
The pain I have faced in my own life, has not been from a specific tragedy, but an ongoing struggle with my mental health. I have always struggled with feelings of depression and anxiety.
But if I can take the pain of those experiences, and turn it into a passion to help others who are facing depression and anxiety, then I have transformed my painful experience. Suddenly, there is a beauty in my pain, that wasn’t there before.
Hope & Grace
To have joy in painful experiences, is to have hope in painful experiences. Hope that the trials that we go through, are building us, rather than destroying us. And a hope that God will make what is so imperfect right now, perfect in God’s own way. Hope that there is beauty and transformation in the difficult and dark process and hope that healing is on its way.
And although I think we should strive diligently for this hope, I think there will be those moments when it will be hard to feel hopeful, and I think that’s okay too. Give yourself grace.
Wishing you hope, healing, and transformation.
I know that I have gained a lot from reading blog entries and I also know if I took the time and journaled about them for a few minutes they would affect me in an even deeper way and bring me to some truths I may have not come to otherwise.
So if you have a few extra minutes and your journal handy…here you go!
- Write down a word, phrase, or sentence that describes a painful experience you are going through right now.
- Are you allowing yourself to experience the pain or are you trying to force yourself to be happy?
- What would it mean for you to feel the pain of the circumstance, while also allowing for hope?
- Could you imagine that you might be going through some kind of personal transformation, because this pain is happening to you? What might that look like?
- Could you imagine that you might someday be able to help others because of the pain you are going through? What might that look like?
- Do you believe that God could redeem this pain, and somehow make beauty come from this darkness? What might this look like?
- Are you willing to offer yourself grace, on the days when you feel unhopeful? How will you offer yourself grace?