I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Romans 15:13.
Someday I’ll do a whole article series—or sermon series—on the salutations Paul closed his letters with. They always catch me because they feel so personal. Maybe because at times the Bible does not feel personal. I also believe there is a lot of depth in these closing remarks that are too often glossed over. But for now once again I’m back to my favorite one, Romans 15:13. I’ve referenced this one before. And I will again because of these life words of hope, joy, peace, and trust all are a part of a brave life. They are all rolled into one blessing here!
May you be completely filled with joy and peace. I wish it were a simple blessing but this is a deep and brave one.
To begin let’s start with this oft-quoted verse from James 1:2-3, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Joy in the midst of trials? Joy in the midst of pain? As we’ve learned often on this webpage, joy and pain go together.
This is where we get stuck. Joy isn’t supposed to hurt so much.
Joy can feel like a set up, right? We believe that if we really feel this wonderful emotion then something bad is right around the corner. So you would rather dismiss joy or control those joyful feelings. We do things so we don’t get blindsided by hurt. We want to beat vulnerability to the punch.
One of our boys suffers terribly from this. If he got a good opportunity at work, he would immediately say that this won’t last. If he got a compliment (as he is quite handsome), he would quickly say he’s not wearing his best clothes (like clothes could change his good looks). When the boys were younger we did a lot of mystery trips with them. Took them to places that they never dreamed they would get to go to. So much fun for us! So many memories made. But when we got home, this same son would do something to sabotage his life. Instead of experiencing the joy of the trip, he felt guilty that his birth family didn’t get to feel this joy. He felt guilty that his grab for faith and a better life gave him this opportunity while others were left behind. Because he made the choice to better his life he felt disloyal. He felt guilty that he felt joy. So he would sabotage it.
Then there is this story that Dr. Brene’ Brown shared from her gathered research:
“I used to think the best way to go through life was to expect the worst. That way, if it happened, you were prepared, and if it didn’t happen, you were pleasantly surprised. Then I was in a car accident and my wife was killed. Needless to say, expecting the worst didn’t prepare me at all. And worse, I still grieve for all of those wonderful moments we shared and that I didn’t fully enjoy.” —Daring Greatly, p. 120.
He learned the hard way that fear did not protect him from the pains of life. Fear does nothing to protect us from the pains of life. Bad stuff happens. Pain happens. We do not have the power to control our outcome. Being hyper-vigilant in fear, which you’ve renamed as protective love, does nothing to change the world around you. It just takes your joy away.
When we’re pain avoidant, we’re joy avoidant. And a joyless life is no life at all. I love this Donald Miller quote from my favorite book of his:
“Fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” —Donald Miller, A Million Miles…
You thought we were talking about joy and peace and I’ve wandered into the deep muddy waters of fear. This is because when we feel such moments of joy, these “too good to be true” emotions are really rooted in fear, scarcity, or “I am not enough” thoughts. With the deepest root being you believing that you are not worthy of joy. With this “foreboding joy” you are basically saying, “I’m not worthy of having this joy so I must sabotage it before life sabotages me.” My son chose to better his life. He made that move to join our family. He is worthy of every joy his choices has brought him–if he will be brave enough to truly believe this. This is vulnerability.
Do not be afraid to feel the ordinary joys that happen in your life. Also do not be afraid to feel the pain that happens in your life. You get both. We all do. And you will make it through both. Remember that God has hardwired us for pain.
Joy is what we get in our pain like what that James 1:2-3 teaches us. Real true joy. Such as that moment when you laughed so silly over something so silly because real joy leaked out. Maybe some laughing tears too. Or those moments when you are beautifully overwhelmed at something you see in nature. My son just finished spending sometime in “the hole” at his prison. On one of those mornings he observed a full sunrise. It had been a while since he had seen such beauty. He felt that joy. It has softened him in that invulnerable place of prison. He has become braver.
Isn’t it in these times of joy that the most beautiful writing happens or the most touching songs are written? This is because pain and joy are alive together.
Then there is peace. Peace is not a simple blessing we get to receive and then go on living our lives while still trying to control the outcome of our lives. The peace that Jesus offers is guttier than that. It is a peace that goes beyond understanding. If you’ve had moments of peace like this you know exactly what I’m talking about already because this peace changes you.
We are not exempt from pain. But because we want to control the outcome so much…
Because we don’t want to feel how painful the trials and sorrows really are…
Because we desire a much safer life… We strive and hustle in our attempts to protect ourselves believing we are on our way to peace.
Striving and hustling are not peaceful. Nothing about those words emote peace. Yet we would rather hustle to numb the pain so we can find that elusive peace again. But is it peace you are looking for? Or control over your life?
Because it is easier to have that extra glass of wine.
It is easier to play that video game.
It is easier to scroll mindlessly through Facebook.
It is easier to binge watch Netflix.
All of this is easier than to rest in the peace that God knows the big picture like John 16:33 tells us, I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (I love that verse!) We get the peace. We also get the trials and sorrows. We get the joy. We also get the pain.
There are moments—most often very memorable—in that pain when a deep peace enters in. Sarah, our Missionary Momma, shared this about her father’s death. There is this family from my last church. 15 years ago they buried the oldest sister at age 9. Then just a few months ago the healthy father had a stroke at age 47. The family had to make the incredibly hard decision to take him off of life support. He still didn’t die. Then they had to make the decision to bring him home to die. It took him 6 days to die once they brought him home. Can you even begin to enter into their pain?
Upon his death the oldest son wrote this as the announcement of his father’s death:
“At about 7:30 this morning, my dad took his last breath and went to heaven to be with my sister. I have never been more sad in my life, but I have an inexplicable peace and hope that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ. I don’t know why God had me here to save him if this was how it was going to end, but it’s not always our place to know God’s plan. What I do know is that I will see my dad again one day, and that is what I will rest in. If you would like to know about the reason for my hope, please reach out. It’s what my dad would want, it’s what I want, and it’s what Jesus wants. God is no less good because of this.”
This is that peace that goes beyond understanding. This is Philippians 4:7 in flesh and blood, And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
You have to stop the hustle and striving to control the outcome of your life to find this kind of peace. And that is simply hard. It is releasing that control. It is stopping the numbing. It is a fruit of the Spirit which means the Holy Spirit is here to help you.
Do you see how gutty joy and peace really are? How brave they are? How such a blessing is not flippant? How joy and peace can change the direction of your path?
May you be completely filled with joy and peace. May you live this brave life.
(photo credit: Pixabay.com)