Community, Pain Finding Joy in the Broken


Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4
I’d reluctantly joined a small Bible study on the book of James. On the heels of some difficult years both personally and financially, I was ready for an encouraging study. Though his suggestion offended me God insisted and I signed up. With a cinched heart and tears tucked away, I joined the other women around the table.
James. Mr. Count-It-All-Joy. I thought I could tell that guy a thing or two about struggle, about trial. Sleepless nights, endless tears, desperate loneliness and flailing arms clamoring for heaven as my own life threatened to drown me. I knew the reason I’d survived to this point was because of God’s mercy and grace. I’d believed every word he’d whispered into my soul. If the story of my life didn’t qualify as facing “trouble of any kind,” of faith being tested, endurance being developed, and growing, I didn’t want to know what was next. I resented that he’d asked me to join these women for 12 weeks in a local coffee shop. I was angry.
The study was 6 years ago and as I picture myself anxiously waiting for my Chai that first day, I’d love to go back and love that woman a little better. Help her understand that what God was beginning to ask her to do was let it all go. Her plans, dreams and happy ending. I’d put my arms around her and tell her that though her struggle was real, though she was depending on God for her literal daily bread and any scrap of happiness or joy that came her way, she was walking it out in a way that suggested she was the source of her power. As if she could hang the stars, drop the morning dew, part the raging waters.
I joined the group that fall because God asked me to. He required my pride. What I learned in the book of James though wasn’t nearly as life-changing as the choice I made every week to continue to show up. To sit and offer him my heart, to ask him for a new way of thinking about my life. I’d walked with him closely for years but this was the beginning of a new level of Surrender.
Six years later, my story is taking a dramatically different turn than I’d prayed it would. But I’ve found spirit-level Joy and true contentment in the middle of deep disappointment. The journey to Joy has been a steep one of learning to be completely honest with God and eventually myself. These are some things I’ve learned along the path.
Joy cannot precede Surrender.
When I walked in to the first study, the words of James etched into my memory from years in Christian school, it seemed as though Joy was a decision, like putting whipped cream and a cherry on top of a manure sundae and calling it delicious. “Count it all Joy” equaled calling the hard things good, grinding them out daily. Slap a big happy J for Joy and Jesus on it and one day I’d end up with deeper character. It’s true, we have to make willful decisions to choose Surrender but if we offer our minds and our words with close-fisted hearts, it’s not Surrender. Joy cannot flood our lives until we’ve truly and fully surrendered our will to God’s.
Surrender cannot pretend.
Sometimes we keep ourselves from living Joy-filled lives because we pretend more than we realize. True Surrender is self-aware and acknowledges where we’re vying for control of our own lives.
Surrender does’t label our difficult circumstances good and pretend that we are giving God control while a tiny corner screams in protest of a life we didn’t expect. Instead, it comes from honesty as we step directly into our most painful places and offer our hopes, dreams, and disappointments to a God who can be trusted with our grief because he is acquainted with grief. Surrender offers no substitute. It’s all or nothing. Anything less than honest and complete surrender will not provide a gateway into Joy.
Pain cannot be avoided.
Trusting God with our pain by bringing it to him allows him to shield us from it’s crushing weight as he tenderly holds our souls. Some of the most precious times I’ve shared with the Holy Spirit have been moments filled with angry words and sobs when I’ve finally severed the last ligament of control to God. At the point we let go of desired outcomes, we begin to understand what it means to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. Only then can our raw pain be infused with peace that overwhelms our ability to understand it. We begin to realize in a personal way that God occupies our future at the same time he’s comforting our present. We honor him with our ragged honesty because it implies trust in him and his ability to fashion treasure from the most tattered lives. Pain won’t always disappear in the presence of Joy but is cushioned by her presence.
Joy cannot be silenced.
When we begin to be honest with ourselves and then with God by inviting him into our brokenness, we learn that Joy is often acquired through the experience of deep pain. Joy does not wait for the gritty details of life to smooth beneath our feet. She insists on flooding the present mess we find ourselves in. She drips down our cheeks as we walk through grief. Sits close while we experience uncomfortable emotions. Whispers her stability into our minds and bodies when there’s not one ounce left within. And it’s here we learn the words of Nehemiah are true, the Joy of the Lord is our strength.
The very best thing about Joy.
The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of Thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7
God does not abandon us to figure out Joy or obtain it on our own. He’s always waiting for a glance, one finger inching toward him, a hairline fracture of our hearts as we begin to learn how to trust him. David says, God helps us and that our hearts are filled with Joy to the point of busting out a song. This isn’t the Hokey Pokey, it’s not a song to drown out your cries but a melody like none you’ve heard before. Deeply Surrendered Joy, you’ll know it when you hear it.

Looking to get connected like I did? Learn more about our Rooted, Real Moms and Life Groups.


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