Sometimes you hear words and know they were meant specifically for you. It’s that gut-wrenching moment when you look a stranger in the eye and wonder if they’ve been reading your journal or have some sort of super power that enables them to see your innermost thoughts. This, my friends, is exactly what I experienced today.
Yesterday I spent several hours taking a deep, hard look at myself and who I’ve become. I’m learning that my decisions lead me somewhere and it’s in the journey that the “somewhere” is revealed…and frankly, I didn’t like the somewhere I was seeing. I did not like who I was becoming. Largely, I discovered (pretty obviously!) that I had exchanged joy for worry and the prison of perfection. Needless to say, I assessed my becoming journey and decided I needed to make some changes.
Fast-forward to today. I wake up, grab my standard cup of coffee, throw on my TOMS, and head to Church of Hope to run the 9:00 gathering’s slides. During the month of December, different families are lighting candles in recognition of advent. As Scott and Holly Lanker walked up to their microphone, I clicked the correct slide and began to listen to their story (see below!). And it hit me like a ton of bricks. This couple, who I don’t know personally, was speaking directly to me….I don’t think that Scott & Holly sharing their story and understanding of what “joy” means was a coincidence today. In fact, I believe God stepped in, grabbed my hand, and whispered, “Baby girl, you’re doing just fine. Breathe in my joy. Trust me regardless of the circumstances. Wait for me. I will show up. It’s who I am.”
And boy did He show up today. Thank you, Scott & Holly for reminding me what true joy is.
|Holly & Scott Lanker
As I started to pray and reflect on the topic of “joy” in preparation for this reading, my first thought was to talk about all the reasons I have to be joyful this season. A loving family, a great relationship with my beautiful wife, three delightful, healthy kids, a nice house to live in, a career that I love, good friends to share life with, a great church, a free country in which I can worship God freely…the list goes on and on. A lot of us in this room could come up with quite a long list if we really thought about it long enough.
Yet we have also experienced difficulties in the past year. The closing of our former church, which we loved. The busyness and stress of Scott’s job and raising three children, ages four and younger. For me personally, the experience of joy does not always come easily, but it in the daily choices I make. Joy comes when I choose to let the focus of my heart not be on my circumstances, but on who Christ is and what He has done.
This Advent season, when I am faced with daily stresses and frustrations, I ask myself, “how should I experience joy in this moment? Am I allowing the joy of the Lord to be my strength?” And now, as a mother of young children, my heart breaks for the families in Connecticut that have experienced unspeakable tragedy this week. Where is the joy in that?
Even the Bible is filled with stories of people who had every reason in the world not to be happy. Look at John the Baptist: he spent his life wandering around in the desert telling people to repent, and then got thrown in prison and spent the last part of his life stuck there, questioning whether or not his entire life and ministry was in vain, until at last in finally ended and he got beheaded. What about Paul, and all his experiences? Why would he have the joy he claimed to have, when he said he “rejoiced in his sufferings”?
If Christmas is just about reflecting on the happy things in our lives, that’s all well and good for those who happen to be going through a season of life that they enjoy…but what about everybody else? Can they all really be expected to be smiling during “the most wonderful time of the year”? Not to be a scrooge, but isn’t it a little ridiculous to expect that all the “good people of the world” should be happy at the exact same time every year, singing songs about memories none of us ever actually had? I never met “Parson Brown.” I never rode on a sleigh as a child, and although I have eaten roasted chestnuts, I didn’t think they were anything to write home about: why should I expect songs about those things to make me and everyone else feed good about life? It occurs to me that joy is something totally different. Joy is not in circumstances. I am truly blessed, and thank God for all the things in my life today that I have to be thankful for. But if that all went away, I would still have reason to be joyful.
Joy is what Christ brought to us: it is having hope that this world is not our home. It is knowing that we have a loving Savior who gave his life for us, and that no matter what happens here in this life, we can know that this isn’t all there is to it, and that we can spend eternity with Him, experiencing nothing but love, free from pain, loss, or unhappiness. Joy because He came. Joy because He is still here. Immanuel. God with us.