The Lovely Place of Hard-Fought Joy
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
If joy were a vitamin, I would be deficient this week.
Nothing felt right. No amount of carbs, scrolling on social media, chocolate or Instagram inspiration made me feel better. An anxious longing set up shop in my heart and wouldn’t go away. In desperation, I searched the scriptures for some encouragement, any encouragement I could find.
Of course, I happened to be studying Philippians, basically the Bible’s “joy letter” from Paul to the church. God is so clever. Reading through the verses, you would have thought Paul was the richest, luckiest, happiest guy in the world. Basically, the Bill Gates of the Bible. Digging deeper, I am reminded Paul wrote the letter from prison, probably chained to a Roman soldier, with no hope of being released anytime soon or the prospect of certain death. He had to rely on the kindness of his church to even have something to eat. Further, his future held strong chances of ending badly. How in the world could Paul be so happy?
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4 NIV)
Really Paul. Rejoice always? He even repeats it to be clear. I don’t even feel like pretend rejoicing. Paul was next-level good at keeping the joy flame going. He knew God had already worked things out, Paul knew his job was to stay joyful.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)
That last line might be one of the most quoted verses from the Bible, but I never grow tired of hearing it's promises. I long for Paul’s confidence. I copy out his words in my journal in hopes they become part of me. I long for the ability to deeply get Paul’s secret. I don’t think this kind of joy comes from studying enough or praying enough, I think it takes time and fire to learn joy like that. Paul knew deep trust because he had faced deep trials. I can’t begin to understand all Paul faced, but I certainly want his resilient style of joy.
What I’m learning is joy isn’t smiley-faced all the time. Joy can be known deeply through tear-stained cheeks and aching lonely hearts. Joy isn’t reserved for summertime sunsets but found in wintertime storms that remind me of the comfort of home. I know it’s perfectly okay to miss those feel-good times. But the joy found in the depths is the true joy I think Paul talks about.
Joy in my mind looked like an always happy, weekend attitude. But quiet, resilient joy looks like pressing into what is, resting in our boredom, holding close the anxiety and the unanswered questions. It’s found from sitting with our brokenness and enduring. It’s pressing into the difficult wilderness side of ourselves to fully get that God is still with us and for us. Those hard-fought joy days are the ones that invite us to steep ourselves into the authenticity of who God has called us to be. Deeply confident, pressing in, resilient, Paul-style joyful.
Through the difficult days, God invites us into deeper waters. I’m learning His joy isn’t finite. It isn’t only found in a book, or a building or when things are going well in our lives. Joy is a hard-fought confidence. It is sure and fiery. It is still there waiting for us even when we don’t feel like it.
I know my joy will return. I trust that God is sending it my way, I just have to wait for it. In the meantime, I pray, I rest, I press into what is and trust that this is the kind of joy Paul knew so well.