There is a blog that has meant a lot to me in my journey through the past few months… (http://gitzengirl.blogspot.com) Sara Frankl has a disease that is quite similar to my Psoriatic Arthritis --only her disease is more advanced than mine is right now…But, despite her suffering, she has a motto that is one that I’d really discovered myself some years ago ( I think that Sara is a bit better at living it out than I have been). That motto is “Choose Joy” and when asked by one of her blog readers to define joy, this is what Sara came up with:
Joy: the unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it… not despite what’s happening in my life but
because of it. When everything earthly feels heavy He gives me an internal lightness that can’t be touched.
Recently, I was talking to a young woman whom I’d met it the psych hospital during my last stay. This lady was in the pits of despondancy and feeling like her life is not worth living or that she has any ability to continue to face life because of some pain that she has recently been experiencing due to headaches. She questioned me on the degree of my pain and then asked how I can get through my days and not feel suicidal any more.
Oddly, it was over twenty years ago when I felt most suicidal and determined to die and that was BEFORE I’d experienced any of the physical pain with which God has seen fit to entrust me since then. How is it that I was able to get through those times and am now experiencing days of constant pain and struggle and yet not sliding back into that morass of depression? Well, to answer the first question: the way I got through those days was not my own choice–I attempted several times to vacate my existence on earth…but God saw fit to rescue me each time, preserving my life because He knew that there was more that He desired to accomplish in me and with me before I get to the end of my earthly journey.
I told my friend on the phone today this, “In this world, there will almost always be some sort of suffering and pain…this world is cursed by sin and is under the jurisdiction of one who hates us and desires to see us suffer. But God is bigger than he is and has more authority, and God allows us to have pain for a while here, on earth…he is the real authority in what happens to his children…and God takes what Evil meant to be destructive and completely negative, and turns it into something that hones and refines us; something that gives us the ability to “comfort others with the comfort that we ourselves have received.”(as Paul says in the the Bible).
God teaches us sweet and valuable things through our pain…like how to curl up on his lap and cry on his shoulder when everything else has failed to comfort us…and how to see the small but scintillatingly beautiful things that surround us here and now…and how to look forward to what he has in store for us after this life is over to reward us and to make right all that was wrong here in this world!! …. I would never, ever have the longing or the appreciation for heaven that I now have, should I have been successful at ending my life when I was in my twenties.
My friend said repeatedly on the phone last night, “But I just can’t take it! It’s not worth it! I can’t enjoy anything anymore!” I tried to describe to her some of my other friend, Sara’s approach to life. Joy is a choice. This world will always have suffering. We have the option of facing the suffering with bravery and dependance on God’s strength and with joy; or we can whine and moan and feel sorry for ourselves…and make everyone else desire to not hang around us for very long! No one wants to be around someone who is so caught up in their pain that they can’t enjoy life! Self pity makes for a very lonely existence… Pain is bad enough, suffering isolates us enough…but we NEED the presence and help and comfort of others to encourage us…and if we chase everyone away by clinging to our misery, it will make it all that much harder to get through.
I understand that depression is an illness and that a person cannot turn it off by being told to “just choose joy.” I can’t do that either…but let me explain to you the difference between joy and happiness, as I see it. Joy is something that is a solid fact…it is something like the foundation of your house. The condition of your house— the color of it, or whether it’s clean or dirty etc. – does not affect the foundation. The foundation always is there, always supports the house. And in the event of a catastrophe, the foundation will hold fast and remain. Emotions will come and go but joy remains and is the groundwork upon which we build. I think that Joy is the result of a trio: “Faith, Hope, and Love. When we have the faith to know God exists, and experience His love, that gives us hope and the consequence is JOY!! But we need to live out the truth of that sentence before we be able to know and maintain will a life of joy.
Joy IS a choice… I am not perfect at always choosing joy and there are times when I do a bit of moaning… but ultimately, my life is built on and sustained by what Sara Frankl has attempted to define above. I’ve said to people, “I do not always FEEL joy; but I always HAVE joy!” Feelings are fleeting and undependable and they change from moment to moment…our CHOICES make up the bedrock that holds us and supports us through the crashing waves and storms of emotion. The choice is based on what we believe deep down to be true about God…and about this life. I do not believe that we can really be trusting God if we are simultaneously rejecting His path for us! If you really trust Him, you will go where He leads you; you will take whatever His hand holds out to you….because you implicitly trust his motives and desires for you…you KNOW and BELIEVE that He is working good through all things that He brings to you. You KNOW and BELIEVE that unimaginably great things are coming…and because of these things…you CHOOSE to live a life of joy.