Welcome and thank you to guest author Jennifer Perez! Find her on Facebook @theencouragingmomblog, on Instagram @theencouragingmom, on her blog at http://www.theencouragingmomblog.com, and head to Amazon to pick up a copy of her newest book, She Laughs: A 40-Day Journey to a Heart Filled with Joy and Peace.
From now until Christmas, we will see or hear “Choose Joy” on Christian radio stations, banners at stores, t-shirts, mugs, journals, you name it—it’s everywhere!
But what happens when we don’t feel joyful? How do we live joyfully when it feels like all the air has gotten sucked out of us?
Honestly, I’m just coming out of a few months of feeling like that. Parenting my seven-year-old son right now is just hard. It’s taken every bit of patience and grace and wisdom to help him in this challenging season, but I still fall short sometimes and blow up at him.
In those moments as I fight back feelings of failure as a mom, I struggle with feeling joyful in this hard parenting season. Being a mom to young kids (I also have a two-year-old) is so wonderful but it’s also exhausting. It leaves me feeling over-the-top joyful in one moment and depleted physically and emotionally the next moment. It’s a journey that’s been one of my most precious gifts in my life but also one that’s continuing to painfully saw off my rough edges.
Some seasons are just plain hard
Maybe you’re in a similar season parenting young kids or pre-teens or high school kids. You’re in the trenches day in and day out. You love your kids, and you’re trying to be the best parent you can be—but you’re tired and emotionally wearing thin.
Or maybe you’re in a different season, one where you’re not struggling with things like crying kids, towers of dishes, and never-ending laundry but debilitating illness and repeat hospitalizations. Your body and mind are tired, and you’re just surviving until that next treatment or next surgery.
Or maybe for you it’s the stress of your job. You’re drowning in constant pressure to perform well and hit all of your project deadlines. Your emotional and physical health are tanking, and you leave work each day depleted and discouraged.
Perhaps it’s none of these things, but it’s something else that has been difficult to navigate in this season. Gosh, life can be so stressful and frustrating and just plain hard sometimes.
Related: Seasons change and so do I
How do I choose joy when joy feels far away?
So when we hear “Choose Joy” or read verses like James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” it’s tempting to roll our eyes or even laugh because seriously, how is that even possible? Surely that verse isn’t referring to (fill in the blank with your difficult trial). How are you supposed to be joyful in that situation?
Or maybe we feel guilty that we haven’t been more joyful so we muster up all the smiles and fake being happy. We think maybe if we smile big enough, no one will know how we’re really feeling. To the watching world we seem happier on the outside but on the inside we feel just as beat-up and drained.
In this season leading up to Thanksgiving, we are reminded that we should be grateful and count our blessings. And while I love that we take some time to focus on doing just that this time of year, what about the other 11 months of the year? How do we face trials, some big, some small, with genuine joy, not just the say-cheese-for-the-camera kind of shallow happiness? How do we have real joy each day?
As I’ve walked through the fiery furnace the past several years, the Lord has helped me to see that even when we’re in the trenches or walking through a desert we can have joy each day by turning to him, remembering who he is, and trusting him each step of the way. This doesn’t mean that what we’re going through isn’t incredibly difficult! It just means that even in those challenging seasons we can have a deep joy in the Lord that helps us endure the flames that are trying to scorch us.
Side note: I just want to be sure to say that while I’m going to walk through a few biblical ways of how we can live more joyfully, if it feels like you just can’t seem to get out of the pit you’re in, please seek mental health support and get the help you need. As someone who has clinical depression and suffered from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety after my second daughter was born, I am a huge proponent of taking care of our mental health in addition to our spiritual health, emotional health, and physical health. They are all important, friend, so please be sure to seek professional help if you think you need it—especially if a loved one is encouraging you to do so.
Related: Self Care isn't Selfish
How can we have genuine joy?
Let's dive into three ways we can experience the Lord’s joy in the midst of suffering and hardship.
1. We can have joy when we turn to God often in prayer and through reading his Word.
I really can’t say this enough. We can have joy by staying tethered to the Lord by reading his Word and staying in prayer throughout the day. Truly nothing can satisfy our souls like God’s Word can. When we read it, meditate on it, and reflect on how to apply it to our lives our souls are refreshed even in the driest of seasons. In the Bible we read truths that have the power to anchor us—they give us hope, peace, joy, and comfort in our hearts.
Talking to God and turning to him often throughout the day is our lifeline when things are going all wrong. Those whisper prayers of “God please help me” or “God I need You” while prayed in desperation are the prayers that help us make it through the day. God doesn’t need some fancy prayers from us. He just wants to hear from his children. And the beauty is that he knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8).
Only the Lord knows the number of times I’ve prayed those whisper prayers, especially since becoming a mom almost five years ago. When I realize I’m getting stressed or overwhelmed not knowing how to best meet the needs of my children (one of whom is literally the exact opposite of me), I try to remember to take a moment to breathe and pray.
In those few seconds of turning to God, my heart stops thumping like a bass drum in my chest. My breathing slows down. The tension in my neck eases up and my shoulders drop down a few inches. And I feel joy in the Lord’s sustaining grace as he lightens my load and fills me with joy again as a momma to my kids.
2. We can have joy when we remember who God is.
Too often when we spend time in God’s Word we forget everything we read as we go about our day. It’s easy to forget the beauty of our God, the promises we find in his Word, and the glory of who he is as the day’s stresses pile up and attempt to block our view of him.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Hannah, she was diagnosed with a fatal open neural tube defect called anencephaly. From the time she was diagnosed at 11 weeks, 6 days until I delivered her at 39 weeks, 2 days, I lived each day knowing that she could pass away at any moment. And, if she didn’t pass away in my womb, I knew that she would either be stillborn or have a very short life expectancy of hours or possibly days.
I grieved every day knowing that our baby girl would not live long. Some days, I grieved with hot tears streaming down my face but other days the grief was a constant silent wind that blew against my heart throughout the day. Each kick, each punch, each hiccup was a reminder that while she was thriving in my womb now, the day would come when I would have to say goodbye.
And yet, while I grieved, I had this joy that was so real and indescribable. It was this deep, feel-it-in-your-bones kind of joy. I know part of what made me so joyful was getting to experience pregnancy after walking through four years of infertility. I felt incredibly grateful that the Lord would allow me to carry my Hannah Grace as he sustained her life in my womb.
I also felt joyful as I clung to God more tightly than I ever had as he reminded me often that he was with me, that he was sovereign, and that he was good. I knew that no matter what happened, God was never going to leave my side, he was in absolute control when life felt out of control, and he was good even when my circumstances weren’t good.
Now in this new difficult season I’m in, I wish I always remembered who our awesome God is instead of becoming anxious or stressed or overwhelmed. I’m thankful, though, that even when you and I forget, the Lord graciously guides our focus back to him and reminds us of who he is.
3. We can have joy when we trust the Lord each step of the way.
As we stay close to the Lord through reading his Word and praying often and as we remember who he says he is, then we are able to fully trust God no matter what comes. There are times when it looks crazy to trust him given our circumstances, but it’s amazing how the Lord can grow and strengthen our faith as we surrender to him.
If I’m being honest, I struggle with feeling stressed with all the day-to-day things I have to take care of as a wife and as a mom (this is nothing new, I’ve always been this way). I feel anxiety and worry of what’s to come tomorrow, later this week, and even weeks away. I have some straight-up fears, particularly regarding my children and their well-being. Surely I’m not the only one, right?
But these past several months, God has been reminding me of the woman described in Proverbs 31. Verse 25 says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (NIV).
Who laughs at the days to come? This woman doesn’t know what the future holds for her—tragedy, pain, sorrow, and of course happy times, too. And yet, she trusts so deeply in the Lord that she can laugh as she looks toward her unknown future. She doesn’t know what may happen, but she trusts that God knows everything (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and that he will guide her through it all.
As Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). We ultimately don’t get to decide our paths, but we can decide to trust the Lord while we walk the path he has laid out for each of us. And when we do, we can have joy as we look toward the days to come.
This year has been a whirlwind for most of us—some ups, so many downs, and a lot of unknowns. As we press on toward the end of 2020 and begin a new year, I hope and pray that we can have joy—true joy—as we turn to God, remember who he is, and trust him no matter what comes. He will help us through every single up, down, and unknown as we remain close to him.
Remember, friend, that you are loved. You are held. And you are not alone.
Pressing on in faith,
Jennifer Perez is passionate about encouraging women in their faith and pointing them to the hope of Jesus through her writing and speaking. She recently released a 40-day interactive devotional called She Laughs: A 40-Day Journey to a Heart Filled with Joy and Peace, designed to help women engage with God's Word as they combat stress, anxiety, and worry. With raw honesty and occasionally some humor, she writes devotionals and shares encouraging videos on her social media platforms and blogs regularly at http://www.theencouragingmomblog.com. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband Mace and 2 children and daily misses her baby in Heaven. You can find her on Facebook @theencouragingmomblog and on Instagram @theencouragingmom.