My soul was thirsty as the pastor preached that Christmas Eve. He spoke of joy and I realized that was what I needed, and I latched on to that word like it was a big jug of water out in the middle of a dry desert. It became my theme as the calendar turned from 2014 to all of the blank pages of 2015, and I decided I was going to figure out how to get this joy, how to make it a reality in my life.
Rather ironically, most of the last year joy was the last thing residing in my heart. It was squeezed out by jealousy, sadness, apathy, bitterness and all of their cousins and friends. I said goodbye to familiar routines and places and people and launched out to a completely new and remote area to begin a work I’m not the least bit qualified to do. I watched my teammate go through some pretty significant health crises, learned I don’t do well with no running water, saw relationships start and end. I rode in a bus for 9 hours at a time making way too many trips back and forth to the big city, spent way too much time feeling guilty for needing to rest, and paid way too much attention to the expectations of others and what (I perceived) they were thinking of me.
And then I fell hard as the pedestal called perfection crumbled beneath me. I had bought into the lie that labeling myself “missionary”, being the good girl, earning the graduate degree, would set me above the rest. I wanted to be known, loved, valued. I didn’t want brokenness, depression, burnout. The weight pressed in, the darkness weighed heavy as I looked at my failures, the words that should have been spoken and weren’t. I heard the Enemy’s whisper, “You messed up. You should have… And you didn’t. You aren’t good enough for… You’ll never do this.” I fought his lies and ended up bruised and bloodied. Joy seemed impossible in the midst of it all. But even in those moments when my feelings told me God was far away, He wasn’t. Words jumped off the page from His Word when I needed comfort, needed to hear and see truth. He sent gifts of comfort, rain that washed my through my soul and filled countless buckets for our empty tanks.
There have been some golden nuggets that have surfaced through all of the pain and frustration of this last year, some lessons I am learning about what joy really means.
– Joy is not just a feeling or a choice but a fight. I don’t care if you live in a villa in the Alps or a dusty border town in southeast Asia, there are plenty of things that come along daily to steal your joy. I have to ask the Father every day to see with His eyes, to look around me and find something I can thank Him for, let go of the hold the circumstances have on me in order to let joy fill my heart.
– There is joy when you come to a place of brokenness. If there is any good that has come from a lot of the messy parts of the last 12 months, it is learning that the very best place I can be is broken and surrendered to Jesus. It took getting knocked clean off my little missionary pedestal to realize that God can accomplish everything He wants to, with or without me, using my strengths or my weaknesses. Not stealing His glory, not demanding my way and my rights but being that broken vessel that lets His light shine bright.
– In this joy-battle you need others to fight along with you. After being the only 2 foreigners and only 2 believers in our little town, my heart is hungry for community, and I am grateful for some changes that will make that more feasible. Even when I was far away from physical contact, I am so grateful for those people I knew I could email when the darkness was pressing in, people who spoke truth and allowed the Holy Spirit to provide conviction or comfort. I am grateful for my family and friends who prayed along with me, sometimes when I didn’t really know how to pray myself. It hurt to let people see my raw heart, to put my failures out there for others to see, but being honest opened up places for healing to come in.
My heart is still thirsty, desperate for Jesus to come in to the dry places and fill me with Himself. I am still broken, and flailing around to try and understand what it means to live that way in this season. But I am grateful, for this joy journey that is far from finished, and the God who comes alongside and holds my hand through it all.
Photo from Velvet Ashes