One of the most common emails I get is a simple question:
How do you choose faith despite intense emotion?
How do you choose God when it seems as if He has betrayed you?
How do you not lean on your own understanding when everything is falling apart?
“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady he will not be afraid…”- Psalm 112:7-8a
We have entered into a new hard within this journey with our girls. It is something that my momma gut knew was coming; yet, regardless of if you anticipate something, the pain is still there.
I am not quite ready to reveal this new piece of our puzzle, but it is so pressed on my heart to share with you the how that God has used to transform my joy in the midst of whatever comes.
You see, these aren’t just words.
For years of my life, I wasted time desiring Jesus but living defeated. My faith was based on my own performance, and as my performance failed, I determined that I just couldn’t be “one of those Christians.” After all, I felt like I was humiliating His name; claiming Him one second and then doing something completely opposite of His character the next. The enemy of my soul had me in such a cycle of defeat that I didn’t ever see how that could be broken. I wanted to want God; I wanted to live a life of abundant joy, yet I could not figure out how to do so.
He took my mustard seed faith and as I continued to seek His Word despite being a theological mess, He gave me a deeper understanding and a stronger desire for Him. He used my mistakes to show me more of Himself. As the Psalmist said, He drew me from the pit of destruction and set my feet upon a rock- THE ROCK- making my steps secure (Psalm 40:2, emphasis mine).
Now, a few years after God gripped my entire being and gifted me with some truths that I could not do life without, we stand in the midst of the hardest trial that has ever come our way- a chronic one that is unpredictable and anxiety-provoking at many moments.
This is the life God has chosen for us.
Many of you have sent me honest, authentic emails that say, in various forms, this simple statement:
I’m not buying it.
I don’t believe that you are experiencing joy in the midst of every moment that your family has walked through.
To those of you who have said this (or thought it), I would say two things:
First, there is a stark difference in joy and happiness. Joy is much more permanent. Joy stems from a deeper, soul-seated assurance that my God is faithful and He already has the victory. Happiness ebbs and flows based on circumstance, trial, or mood.
I am NOT happy at all times. Many days, tears are shed and I fight to sense this joy that I know is present deep down inside of me. Yet, as I seek God more, the joy that is there bubbles up from within and trumps the unhappiness in a way that cannot be described or comprehended by our feeble human minds, it can only be experienced in faith. Even I, a woman of many words, cannot explain what happens when we seek God’s provision to make our joy greater than the fleeting emotions from around and within, yet I know it is real because I experience it every day.
This is not a comprehensive list. This is not a, “How-to” in its entirety.
However, I would like to share with you some practical things that I have done in the midst of trials, both big and small, that have helped me to choose God therefore experience joy.
(Sidenote: I was really excited to make this a list of “P’s”. I have always wanted to do a blog or speak in this manner, yet I found myself really stretching some of them and nixed it. You’re welcome).
When a trial is fresh, our emotions show up full-throttle, and there is nothing wrong with this! Emotions are not a bad thing when filtered with truth. Yet, I have found that I must steer those emotions and that energy toward praise. In ways, praise is the antidote to pain. Now, I don’t mean bowing down on the ground and reciting a script to God because, “It’s the right thing to do”. No. There are so many ways that you can praise God, and it is going to look different for everyone based on their personality. Some of the things I do in order to praise Him first are the following:
Listen to worship music. Sing loud and dance. Sometimes I cry during this and cannot even get the words out. If the girls are awake, we praise together. I will take their little hands and raise them in the air and speak His goodness over their lives. I cannot describe the intimacy that forms between God and myself when this is what I do first in spite of the things my flesh would like to do (wallow, seek pleasure or escape, be numb, zone out). You see, the enemy of your soul wants you to believe that a life with God is ‘less’, that you will feel less alive in relationship with Him. That could not be further from the truth! I never feel more alive than when I’m connected with My Creator.
Find a way to get outside. This is for my husband. Now, while we would love it, that may not be a long hike in the woods or an afternoon fishing, depending on timing. Sometimes, all it takes is stepping outside of the office for a few minutes and breathing in God’s creation. Looking around at the good He has created and thanking Him for it. Nature is God’s playground and it nourishes our weary souls.
Fixate on the character of God. Get a Bible (or if you don’t have one, google, “Traits that make up the character of God”) and spend some time saying out loud or writing down specific traits that God is. He is kind. He is righteousness. He is strong. He is worthy. He is sovereign. He is good… the list goes on and on. This brings Him praise and stirs our hearts to trust Him as we remember who He is and that His character is unchanging.
2. Pour out your heart.
God’s Word tells us to pour out our hearts like water to Him (Lamentations 2:19). Instead of giving into the temptation to speak to another human being first, seek God first and then sound friendship second. (The sound part is key- we must reach out to someone who knows truth and is going to give that truth to us gently instead of allowing us to dwell in lies). Tell Him everything- all your emotions, all your fears, all your frustrations- and then leave them with Him. He knows what to do with the heaviness of our hearts and anything we bring to Him is safe left in His Almighty hand. When it comes to community, I am so grateful God has given us friends who show up in our hard and love us with the love of Christ. They come, they let us cry, they pray, they speak truth over us. If you do not have this- pray for it. Actively seek it out. Don’t wait until the trial comes to realize that you don’t have solid community- seek it now. Also- the internet is great but it cannot replace tangible human interaction. I love online support groups and have found solace there- but we all need physical human relationship in our lives and social media just doesn’t replace it.
3. Get in His Word.
Now, if you are not a Christ follower, you do not have His Spirit inside of you. This means that when you read His Word, it is going to feel dead to you. This is a whole new conversation. For those that are believers, His Word is living and active, which means it is prepared and equipped with whatever today holds. We must seek His Word in all things, and go to it when we need to be reminded of what is true. As I am typing this, my computer battery was low and I had to plug it up to the charger. Think of God’s Word like the Charger of your faith- God is the battery and He gives us His Word to grant us power. Go through stories of those who walked through trials throughout Scripture and see God’s faithfulness in the midst. Read through the Psalms as if they were the very words on your own lips.
4. Be Present.
When something happens with the girls, it is so easy for me to go into future mode. I think about the what-ifs, the things that could come, etc. Resist the temptation to go there and instead, be present in what He has for you today, leaving the future to Him. We are not given the strength for tomorrow, today; we are given today’s strength and that is enough. Stick in this moment, and remind yourself that He is the Great I AM- sovereign over all.
This doesn’t have to be something grandeur. Remember, the big things are the little things. Send a text to a friend who is walking through a hard time. Bring a meal to someone “just because”. Smile and say hi to the neighbor that always seems to be having a bad day. Write a letter or thank you to someone who has encouraged you. Call a friend, ask about their day, and simply listen without anticipation of talking about yours. Get out of yourself for a bit and the story in your own life and be refreshed.
6. Plan Ahead.
What I mean by that is this: determine in this moment, right now, that you are going to choose God as your default. Even if this has never been your desire before, ask Him to give you that desire, and do not base His faithfulness on your own passing emotions. Simply choose to trust Him and His faithfulness regardless of what the next moment holds. Make God your default. Get up every day, hands and heart open, and surrender your own expectations and entitlements to His greater plans and sovereign will. Then, when the unexpected comes, and if it hasn’t already, at some point it will, you will already know where you are going to go- straight to the throne room where grace and strength abound.
You know, so many times, when people hear our story for the first time, they say something along the lines of, “You’re amazing”. While I know they mean this in such a nice way- my response is always the same, “Our God is amazing.” Dear reader, within myself, I do not have the ability to choose joy. I do not have more faith than the next person, I just have made one simple yet profound choice to trust Him no matter what. In the midst of that, I have become addicted to His presence and praise. I have been amazed as He dissipates my fears and gives me the drive and the ability to place my security in Him. My heart and my flesh my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever and this has been my answer in each and every crevice of this journey with our precious daughters (Psalm 73).
Friend, I don’t know what you are walking through this morning. I don’t know if, like me, new burdens are piling on and lots of questions are raising in your mind. My prayer for you is that no matter how hot the furnace, you would remember your God is able to carry you through the fire. That you would know, in the very depths of who you are, that no trial comes to your life without first passing through His loving sovereign hand. I pray you would take heart that this world is not our home and that if healing doesn’t come on this side of heaven, it is promised on the next. This world is not our home yet God is good and He has overcome all things that threaten to harm us. Come what may, let’s choose God and choose joy regardless of the storm around or within. The strength of our God is greater still.