Joy and Suffering in the Christian Life

The other day I was driving with my little sister, and I was in kind of a down mood, made all the worse thinking about how ridiculous it is that I should feel even slightly unhappy despite all of the wonderful gifts the Lord has given me, which therefore sent my slightly down mood into a plummeting spiral of unhappiness because now I feel bad for feeling bad when so much in my life is good. Catholic Guilt is real, ya’ll.

However, as I was struggling with this spider web of guilt I realized something- joy comes from God, not circumstances… if this sounds obvious to you, be patient with me, I’m a type A who subconsciously believes that if I can control everything I will be happy. However as we get older we realize that this is not true NOR do we want it to be true. If I controlled everything my life would be a catastrophe. It is definitely best left up to the Lord.

We are all searching for something that can only be found at the feet of Jesus. There are times in our lives when joy is administered to us in doses that are slightly less than we would appreciate, for whatever reason. In Christian circles this is often called the “dark night of the soul” or “a spiritual desert”. Either way, it stinks and we don’t like it. And, if you are like me, you spend a greater portion of your energy trying to wrestle away from it.

However, the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction that day, he brought me to the awareness that perhaps this is just a time of growth for me. Perhaps the Lord wants me to lean in to the struggle, instead of trying to get out. Or perhaps he wants me to lean back and let the God of the Universe control my motions… as if I were floating in the sea of his love. Perhaps I really don’t know what is best for me.

I remember back when I was rowing for UCF, and at the end of my physical therapy sessions after practice I had to get in the ice baths for ten minutes. Oh how I HATED the ice baths! I begged for my trainers to shorten the time, I begged to go into the hot tub instead, I’m pretty sure I would have been willing to barter my firstborn if only time would just please, please tick along faster! However, my lovely trainer Craig would just shoot me a not so patient, “Get in there and stop whining” and walk away to leave me in my misery. Of course, it was exactly what I needed, my muscles did heal and during those months I accomplished goals I never thought my body was capable of.

Healing and growth are never easy. In fact, they are usually painful, but always necessary. These dark hours are also reminders that we are nothing without Christ. We, in many ways must accept the lot that we are given. (Oooh does that make red blooded Americans cringe!) Not that we should be contented to a life of misery- certainly not, but once a person has done what is in their power to live a happy and healthy life, the rest is up to the Lord. This realization and acceptance has brought me incredible joy, because it has helped me to realize that I am like a preborn infant with an umbilical chord to Christ. Without him, I shrivel away. The only thing I have control over is the choice to follow Jesus each day. Aside from that, I have nothing to worry about, because I belong to him. And there is so much joy in that.

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