How to Have Joy in Painful Experiences


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.




Journal Questions:

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!

  1. Write down a word, phrase, or sentence that describes a painful experience you are going through right now.
  2. Are you allowing yourself to experience the pain or are you trying to force yourself to be happy?
  3. What would it mean for you to feel the pain of the circumstance, while also allowing for hope?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. Do you believe that God could redeem this pain, and somehow make beauty come from this darkness? What might this look like?
  7. Are you willing to offer yourself grace, on the days when you feel unhopeful? How will you offer yourself grace?


8 thoughts on “How to Have Joy in Painful Experiences

  1. Love, love love this post Nicole! I’m going to try this week to be hopeful when I’m feeling unsure, and to think about how my story could get redeemed! I’ve never liked just being told to “cheer up” when I’ve gone through hard times but this message is totally different than that – thanks!I know what it’s like to have depression and anxiety too, but for me, it’s hard to keep the “other side” of the feelings in mind when they come. Maybe if I do more mental preparation, it’ll be easier next time?


    1. Thank you so much Emily, I am glad you enjoyed the post! I do agree when we are feeling low it is very difficult to feel hopeful. Sometimes in those moments, I need to trust/know/believe there is hope, rather than relying on a feeling of hope, because the feeling can be hard to experience in those moments.

      Sometimes I have to “float” in my depression for a little while, before I get to clarity. But clarity does come on the other side. In the past, I have written letters to myself when I am feeling “normal” to read when I am feeling low. Although these letters don’t make me snap out of the low feeling, I can believe what the letter is saying – and trust that I will feel better once the mood passes.

      Anyway, thank you so much for reading and sharing your comments!



  2. What an inspiring article! I know what it’s like to deal with depression/anxiety, and I’m not sure that I know how to totally beat them, but reading about the good things that can be earned by dealing with the bad does make it seem more hopeful! I assume you are talking about your blog when you said you use your experiences to help others – and I appreciate it, Nicole. Thanks again!


  3. What a great post! I hadn’t heard joy and happiness talked about that way before. I really like this idea for me, but, because I’m trying to help a friend through some of her pain right now, how do you think I should tell her this?? I think this idea could really help her, but I’m nervous about telling her that her pain should be “pure joy” or something like this – what did you tell your friend, Nicole?


    1. Hi Liza!

      I am glad you enjoyed the post!

      I definitely agree that we need to be careful when relaying this idea to a friend going through a difficult time. I think we have to balance how we say it. I think we should remind them of hope – and at the same time validate their feelings of grief, sadness, and anger and give them space to have these emotions. To encourage them in hope and at the same time, acknowledge that it may be very hard for them to feel hopeful right now.

      With my friend, I actually encouraged her through a letter – just because I knew I could pick my words more carefully that way. What I wrote to my friend was very similar to what I wrote in this post.

      If you wanted to, you could send your friend this article and say you found it and thought of her. You could let her you would be open to talking about the idea further, but only if she wanted to. That way you wouldn’t feel like you were pushing the idea on her.

      You know your friend, so you will likely know what’s best for her, but those are just some thoughts.

      As always, thank you so much for reading!



  4. Great post! I’m not really religious, but I like how you talk about getting good things out of pain – this gives me a lot to think about. So thanks again!


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