The last eighteen months have caused many people to question or blame God for all the bad that’s happened—especially when it affected them personally. Count me with the questioners. I wondered if I’d experience joy again.
In fact, even the concept of joy became fuzzy.
When was the last time joy washed over you?
Maybe it came gently like the cool refreshment of a mountain stream—a quiet persuasion deep in your soul that God is good and in control. Maybe it rushed over you in a torrent that brought you to your knees in humble gratitude for God’s goodness.
Either way, it welled up from deep within you. Thoughts and circumstances didn’t control it. That hints at where joy comes from. It’s not from us.
My life-changing joy
I helped care for my dad during his battle with an incurable form of cancer. The last six months of his life, my mom moved herself to the den as a hospital bed, feeding tube, oxygen, and other medical equipment overtook my parents’ bedroom.
The last four days of his life, dad was in a coma, completely unresponsive. But, minutes before he died, dad reached for something. Something beyond the boundaries of the bedroom. I knew dad was on the threshold of heaven, but I was so consumed with grief that I couldn’t rejoice in it. My heart hurt too much to imagine the wondrous sight he had reached for.
Dad’s funeral was the day after Thanksgiving. By then the bedroom had been set back to rights, but mom refused to sleep in it. I got it. Life was still too raw.
A few days later, I ventured into the bedroom.
And got the biggest surprise of my life.
Pure JOY filled the room. Joy so thick I could almost touch it. It wrapped me like a warm blanket. I didn’t need to analyze it or reach for a Bible. I just knew it was unadultered joy from God. Rooted to the floor, I didn’t want to leave. EVER. Then God spoke through the Holy Spirit into the depths of my soul: “I know you don’t understand. But everything is all right. It’s all for good.”
All the painful memories of dad’s cancer lost their daggered edges. Volleys of arrows aimed at my heart clattered to the ground. The memories remained, but they didn’t pierce me anymore.
For three full months, I felt that same joy every time I walked into my parents’ bedroom. Not in any other room—just the bedroom.
How gracious of God to meet me there each time! He knew I needed to imprint that in my mind so I could draw on it through difficult times ahead. I had to teach my mom how to balance a checkbook, maintain her car, drive on the highway, and more. Ten years later, I walked with her through Alzheimer’s. Four years before she died, when I was critically ill with Lyme disease, my husband left me. The list could go on. The point is not the list but the joy God had already given me.
Joy: the gift that defies description
I can’t give you a rock-solid definition of joy. People much smarter than I have done that. (Example: John Piper’s 6-part series on Jesus’ Journey to Joy)
The writer of Hebrews says Jesus “endured the Cross, despising its shame” for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-2). Future joy made Jesus count the torture of the Cross as inconsequential compared to what came afterwards. I can’t fully wrap my mind around that.
What I can wrap my head around is I got a taste of pure joy, and it was wonderful beyond describing. Here’s what I know about it:
- Joy doesn’t depend on us or our circumstances
- Joy comes from God through the Holy Spirit
- Joy has healing power
- Joy reinforces God’s goodness
- Joy brings us to our knees in gratitude
If I’d known then what challenges I’d face ten and twenty years down the road, I probably would have stayed in bed the rest of my life. Yet even today when I think of that experience, I cry tears of joy.
Yes, God IS good.
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This extraordinary young lady radiates joy despite having metastatic cancer 3 times in the last 4 years: Jane Marczewsi’s blog
“The joy that Jesus offers … is his own joy … It is a joy that does not separate happy days from sad days, successful moments from moments of failure, experiences of honor from experiences of dishonor, passion from resurrection. This joy … does not leave us during times of illness, poverty, oppression, or persecution. It is present even when the world laughs or tortures, robs or maims, fights or kills. It is truly ecstatic, always moving us away from the house of fear into the house of love, and always proclaiming that death no longer has the final say, though its noise remains loud and its devastation visible.” — Henri Nouwen