So excited to be doing the A to Z Challenge for the second year in a row! I will be posting each day (besides Sunday) this month. I'll be posting things I've learned throughout high school.
Joy is a slippery word. It's not happiness and it's not a feeling...it's something much deeper and longer lasting.
I always wanted to be joyful. However, I used to not know what that meant, so I kind of gave up on it for a while. There have been many periods throughout the past three years when I allowed the stresses of school, family, and friends to rob my joy. It wasn't even a fight-- at the first sign of struggle, I threw my hands up and out went the joy.
Joy. I used to think it was something you had to work towards with everything you have in you. I thought it was an attainable virtue, and without it, you weren't a Good Enough Christian. And, unfortunately, a lot of the time, I just didn't care because it was too hard.
I had tried so many times to be joyful. No matter what I did, I could not be joyful. Sometimes, life's stresses were just too much. I felt like they were crushing, that they couldn't be figured out. And until they were figured out, I couldn't be joyful.
So I wasn't.
After I realized Christ's intimate love for me sophomore year, my life began to undergo a lot of changes, slowly but surely. One of these was giving up drama.
"Wait!" exclaims you, the confused reader. "I thought this blog post was about joy!"
"Hush," returns I. "Keep reading."
Anyway. Before letting Jesus really transform me, I had a drama addiction. I ran on gossip, telling and listening to it. What else was there to talk about, besides everyone else's problems? Also, I felt the need to share my problems with other people who really weren't involved. I was looking to fix everyone else and be fixed by everyone else. It's a hard cycle to break.
I'm all about telling our personal, transformative stories. But we have to look at the context as well as our intentions. Are we sharing our stories because we want to point to the love of Jesus? Or are we pointing to ourselves?
I let my thirst for drama overtake my thirst for joy. Not only that, but y'all-- I'm a control freak. I have a tendency to think I need to fix everyone and everything and that it all comes down to me, every failure and every success.
Haha...yeah right. So not true.
I had a really hard time trusting God with everything. Every moment, every relationship, every test, my future...all of it.
And yet I wondered why I was not joyful.
Well, here's the deal: joy, like every good thing, is not something that we can just go on Amazon and order. That's our attitude towards it sometimes, isn't it? And it's also not something we just obtain by being really good and never getting mad at everyone.
Joy comes from God. It's a gift; like grace, it isn't something we earn.
Slowly, as I began surrendering more to God, I began receiving His joy. I have discovered that it is when I am aware that I am out of control and know the least about my future that I am the most joyful. The world would tell me, in that instance, that I should be seriously concerned. But why should I worry when I have the heart of the One who has conquered death!? I would so much rather He be in control than me.
The less of us and our stuff that clutters our hearts...the more of God and His joy. We can't receive His joy (or any of His other goodness!) when our hearts are cluttered. So, we must pray to be receive the graces to open ourselves to receive His joy.
This joy is so powerful that it can be clung to in the hardest of times because true joy is not rooted in current circumstances. True joy is rooted in Jesus Christ and His victory over the grave.
A moment of tangible joy in my life occurred quite recently...but it counts because I'm still in high school for the next month.
Friends, I have had a disappointing past couple of months. I felt like God was calling me to give a year up to Him doing missionary work in the US with an organization that puts on middle and high school retreats. I was so, so, so excited about this...I applied and interviewed and THEN...was asked to reapply in a year or so. Although I strongly knew in that moment that this was God's will, it still hurt.
Then, looking at colleges...my top college choice, Franciscan University of Steubenville, was incredibly out of my price range and is kind of known for not giving a whole lot of scholarships and financial aid. I was still hopeful, though, knowing that if God wanted me there, He would provide. After I received my financial aid package, I found out that it wasn't going to be enough. I know that this was part of God's will. It still hurt.
That same day, I was asked to be a counselor for a week at an amazing Catholic summer camp. Which was awesome...except that I had applied to be a staff member for the entire summer and really felt called to it. So once again, I accepted this as God's will and continued to hurt.
When God shuts doors, He still invites us to have joy. Because He is always, always working, as long as there is air in our lungs and even after that.
But y'all...it still hurts. I'm still figuring this life thing out. Even though I might be better at some things than others, I still struggle. I was really struggling with joy in these moments. I was doing everything out of a desire to serve God-- why wasn't He coming through and opening these doors I was trying to walk through?!
The day after I found out about the summer camp, I stopped crying, got out of my bed, and got dressed, thinking about the story of David in the bible, after God punishes him for his lack of purity and murderous actions by taking his son. While his son was sick, David mourned and wore sackcloth and fasted, but when he died, David rose and dressed and ate. When questioned about this, he said that when his son was alive, there was still hope of him not dying but now his son was dead and so, life must go on. Essentially, God gives and takes away.
God gives and takes away. With this mindset, I just said to Him: "God, I am on empty. I literally cannot be joyful and I do not even want to be joyful. But Jesus, you give me joy, so-- I surrender my pain and my illusion of control. Fill me with your joy."
Bam. Joy. Literally, in that moment, I was filled with so much peace and joy and the awareness that God was not finished. This joy did not come from any person and it did not come from my surroundings...if it did, I probably wouldn't have gotten out of bed.
Less than an hour later, I received an email. This email was from one of the camp guys, inviting me to be a part of the Program Mission Staff. WHAT?! That kind of stuff doesn't happen!
Except it does-- because God has a plan. He knows what He is doing. I found out about staff just when I was supposed to...and I'm so glad I did. I felt like in that moment, before I asked for joy, Jesus had asked me: "Do you trust me? Then get out of the boat and come to me."
In that moment, my boat was lack of trust and self-pity. But God invited me to give that up for His peace and joy...and by His grace, I was able to walk upon the waves. He is so cool.
What is the boat that is preventing you from reaching out to joy? Brothers and sisters, let's let go of ourselves, of our control, and of our drama. God can do some pretty amazing things-- let Him be your drama fix.
Don't be discouraged when joy doesn't come immediately-- sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. But in everything, ask the Lord to fill you with His perpetual joy. There are still many areas in my life where I struggle with joy. But I have hope that God is working in these areas and opening my heart to receive a greater joy.
Together, let's get out of the boat and run to joy.
I'm praying for you always.