Joy’s Nemesis

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As I talked to a group of girls last night–one old friend and two new–one of them started talking about the connection between fear and the lack of joy.

I realized that it is true.

Fear chases away joy, in just a whisper of time.

We, white-knuckled, clench imagined control…and joy evaporates.

There are so many fears that run at us and storm our hearts’ gates. They crunch down the doors with solid bolts of facts, worry, despair.

And you know what…maybe we have good reason to be afraid.

If your goal is to stay safe, untouched by pain, hidden from trouble, tucked away from loss, un-torn by loss of people you love–then yes, you have much to fear indeed.

I have to tell you a story–a story that is very, very true.

As a twelve-year-old girl, I was diagnosed with cancer. Lymphoma.

Yes.

That word that carries a host of terror. Cancer. I had it. Inside my body was a wild thing tearing at my seams.

But that is the short part of this story.

Because, you see, a host of prayers went up, and I went to M.D. Anderson where I clutched an oversized teddy bear named Andy and slipped into a hospital gown. They took out a biopsy from my side.

Weeks later, I was declared cancer-free. Doctors claimed to have made a mistake.

Funny thing was…I was okay, then. A little nervous. But I was young and–by some mercy–did not have to take myself to that dark place. I never considered the worst–that cancer kills, and I could be its next prey.

But I wasn’t.

I moved on with life–cancer-free and largely untroubled by the experience, except for a tiny puckering scar over my rib cage.

It was several years later that the fear stole back to haunt me.

I had been experiencing strange symptoms in the site near my scar, and the terror suddenly loomed over me.

I. Could. Die.

That terrible disease could creep over me again and…this time it could take me.

The reality of death hit me in the chest and sat there a while. I cried in the quiet dark. I feared.

And then I gave in. Gave over.

In that still moment, I surrendered my future–whether life or death–to the Lord. I shrank from the idea of pain, from the thought of wasting away before the eyes of my family. But I gave that to Him. (Of course, it was His already…I just needed to align my will with His!)

Easy?

Not at all. Desperately, terribly hard.

But there was peace…washing, cleansing peace…

And  wide-open gates of joy.

This was only one of my battles–vivid still in my memory. I’ve felt the paralysis of fear. It seeps deep into your bones, freezes your joints, immobilizes you until you think every scrap of bravery is gone.

Fear is being haunted by possibilities.

Fear is to stop living to keep from dying.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

So…as I was saying above…you might have good reason for fear.

Believing in God doesn’t mean that you’re promised earthly happiness. The pain of this life is inevitable (John 16:33).

How will you handle it?

Because you MUST handle it. Or let it handle you.

You can run out to meet the fear, or let it catch you as you run. But you will meet it, and you will get to know it well.

I’m just telling you this straight: Life is hard.

So what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to keep running? Are you going to let the fear breathe down your neck every minute?

Or will you let go of the fantasy that you can dodge the pain?

The relief does not come when you hide from the bad things–it only comes when you accept the possibility and yet know that even if the worst comes, you will still be standing at the end.

How could you know this? How could this be your stand?

To face coming days in this way is Joy.

I have a vision of this joy. Maybe it was birthed in my imagination, or implanted in me by other tales. I picture a woman lifting her eyes to the dawn, face radiant. It isn’t a care-free face. It is lined with the trails of years and tears and many laughs. But as this woman looks up, her beautiful, worn face is lit with wild sort of joy–so much joy that it seems that a army could not trample it, or an ocean wash it away. It is a holy, unwavering thing–a way to laugh in the face of death. A way to smile as dawn rises on more trouble. A way to keep loving when it seems all that you love dies.

She is fearless.

And there is only one explanation.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes

– Psalm 112:6-8 –

This is the only well of joy.

Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Fear cripples us–but trusting God’s eternal love breaks its hold.

The question is not whether pain will find you. This world is crying out, waiting for Christ’s final renewal.

The real question is whether you will take refuge in God’s love to carry you safely through the storm. He alone can hold you tight–even giving you faith enough to believe in Him.

I can’t promise you happiness… 

…nor a smooth ride through life…

…nor an emotional high that some call joy..

…but would you really want that, when God’s adventure awaits?

When His pure Joy is just on the other side of your fear?

Nothing is strong enough to part you from Him–not even fear itself.

So…will you run from fear?

Or will you run to your Jesus and together run at the fear?

May you throw back you head and laugh, for your future–however mysterious– is perfectly secure.


 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:31-39, NIV –


My dear friend Emily wrote a post about this very thing. How about checking out “Whale-Lines, Foolish Elves, and the Faith of Laugher”?

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An Ode to the One Who is Not a Wave

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Oh rock! immovable by the surf, immutable in the froth of change,

As I, ocean inconstant, wavering, digressing, mulling again and again, chase up and down the shore.

You glisten and glow in the dawn, undaunted by my surf, a range

Of immaculate, solid goodness, refuge to wind-tossed kites, lonely gulls’ moor,

While I, restless surface, marred goodness, toss and strain in an endless race for the sand.

 

Oh moon! drawer of my unseen depths, quickener of all my hidden things,

Wresting me in whirling tides out of stagnation–serene, wild, terrible pull.

Grace irresistible, hold unbreakable, patient hounding of all my vagrant ways,

Bring me at last to the haven, to rest, to sand-sodden home, to artful

Reflection of your dear, down-cast face, clearest copy of your beam.

 

Deepest one! a floor to my rushings, undergirder of all my stablished ways,

Erupter of steam, holder of secrets, haven to creation’s abyssal dark, conceiving the trapped-up glow

Of fire-mountains beneath my tracks; in you, my surest foundation, yawning mysteries stay

Forever deep and holy in the uncharted, unfathomed places of your beauty. I know

My own depths are upheld by your strength; your unbounded chasm is my rest.

 

Dear one! you who are not a wave, this ode proclaims your unwavering traits:

Rock to my vacillating, moon to my torpor, floor to my flood–

You my border, my crown, my surrounding. Yet, you also fill me, permeate

My every atom, warm my waters with the heat of joy; what is this wonder?

That on every side you are greater, higher, deeper: yet still you love.


 

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.”

– Psalm 139:17-18, NASB –

Eyes to See

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“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

– C. S. Lewis –


Just 45 miles from the Mediterranean shore, in a time when the land was overrun with foreign soldiers, a sleeping village becomes the birthplace of the world’s only hope.

God becomes man, and is laid, wet and swaddled, in a box of scratchy straw.

And the little town barely stirs in its sleep.

“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:10-11, NKJV).

This world, a willing amnesiac, sees His face and turns away, blind to the Divine, timeless features of its own Maker, because He is wrapped in human ordinariness.

They could not see. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:3-5, NKJV).

Yet, today, you and I see.

But we start out just as blind to the glory as any sleeping soul on that Bethlehem night. His grace and love showers around us, and we grope in the dark and take hold of any explanation–anything at all, except for Him. That–that idea that the Light came to us–is never an option.

Then….then something happens.

Whether it is slow dawning or immediate revelation, one day we wake up and we see.

“All I know is that I was blind but now I see

That though I kick and scream,

Love is leading me.

And every step of the way, His grace is making me;

With every breath I breathe, He is saving me.

And I believe.”

– Andrew Peterson, “The Good Confession” –

Once long ago, my eyes were opened. I would never have seen Him, never come to the Light, on my own. His own power over death is the same power that overcame my spiritual death. Now, I see.

But, you know, sometimes I still keep rushing on with my head down and I still fail to see.

I fail to see that my new heart is a miracle. I forget to look for the wonder of each new day that, undeserving, I still receive.

And today, this is my prayer: Give me eyes to see.

Eyes, dear Lord. Open my eyes and let me see these wonderful things that I cannot grasp. They are too high for me. The glory of them blinds me.

But, isn’t it better to be blinded by Light than to never see it at all?

Isn’t it better to stagger under the heaviness of glory than to never have it thrill through your bones? To be loved so much that your heart can hardly stand the joy of it?

Today, I wake up to a day of routines and surprises, a new morning of people to care for and lists to make and jobs to complete.

But, first, I pray this prayer.

Give me eyes to see.

Centuries before the quiet night in Bethlehem, another foreign host busied itself invading the ever-troubled nation of Israel, surrounding the city where the prophet of God was staying. When the prophet’s servant looked over the walls and saw the terrifying power of the enemy, he cried out in his fear. And this was the prophet’s response:

“And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17, NKJV).

They were not alone–they just needed eyes to see.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

– Jonathan Swift –

And, today, as I begin another week full of ordinary days, I realize that maybe these ordinary tasks and unforeseen challenges are just the places for me to SEE.

So, today, dear Lord, open eyes that I cannot open myself.

Remove the veil and let me look deeply at Your love, Your faithfulness, Your new mornings.

Armies of sorts camp against me too. They look pretty big sometimes.

But, faithful Father, I trust Your plan that’s working just beyond the obvious.

Give me eyes to see.

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

– Marcel Proust- 

 

 

 

 

Navigating the Tsunami: 3 More Emotional Survival Tips

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Ever had a storm of feelings bowl you over? I sure have! How do we deal with our wildly-crashing emotions Biblically? 

Last week, we looked at Emotion Facts 1-3. This week, I’ve got three more for you! 


4. Emotions are not indicators of spiritual experience.

“Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

 – C.S. Lewis –

Some mornings, the sun is streaming in golden through my window, my bed is so soft, and I stretch awake and pray it with a glad heart: “Good morning, Lord. Help me serve You today.”

And other mornings, my alarm blares and I groan. Half-asleep, all I can think is, “I don’t want to get up. Ugh.”

Sometimes, I’m this way when it comes to my walk with God, too. I’ll be ready to tackle the whole book of Leviticus one day. The next? I’m barely feeling up to the book of Jude.

However, a “mountaintop” experience is not a way you should gauge your spirituality. Even if your emotions don’t stand up and shout during your church’s service, you can still be in a right relationship with God. You can be praising Him even if you aren’t moved to tears with every song. You can be thankful without feeling a huge, overwhelming current of praise.

Sometimes we don’t feel much. That’s okay. Sometimes we just have to say, “Lord, I love you and I thank you for ____ even though I don’t feel like it. Please help me desire what You desire.” Act on what you know to be right. God is able to bring your desires around even when you don’t know how.

5. Emotions can be directed.

Emotions are crazy, knee-jerk things. I can’t concoct them, but I can choose whether to nourish them. I can fuel them, one way or another. When someone offends me, I can decide to dwell on the problem, or I can turn to truth. Reminding myself of how offended I have a right to be–that makes the sinful emotions grow. Reminding myself of how much I’ve been forgiven (and also that I’m not the center of the universe) helps realign my emotions with God’s word.

The emotion isn’t the problem. My response to that emotion is the issue.

Something I find myself doing often is this: When struck by a fit of feelings, I try to stop and pray. Right there, whether I’m unloading the dishwasher and feeling mistreated or I’m struggling to find a kind response to an out-of-sorts family member, I just have one refuge: God. I call it “shooting up a prayer.” It goes something like this:

“God, help me. I’m feeling____, but I want to honor You. Please help me respond like You would want me to.”

Those prayers lead my emotions, submitting them to God and asking Him to help me wrestle down these contrary attitudes.

As I said above, act on what you know is true and right. Surprisingly, I’ve found that my emotions climb aboard after the train starts rolling, not before.

6. Emotions are not the goal.

Chasing emotions for their own sake is a waste of time. Yes, following the way of our Master is the path to abundant life. I’ve often been blown away by God’s goodness, carried up on the heights of joy, or swaddled in the security of His peace. But seeking these blessings for their own sakes is not the answer. We can’t manufacture God’s gifts.

And, in the thick of swelling emotions, I recognize something deeper than my feelings…a settled thing called desire. It is more solid, more satisfying. It is something like believing that there is still a sun on the other side of the storm clouds.

Sometimes I feel out-of-sorts, but my deepest places long to glorify my Savior. Sometimes a fear  flickers into my life, but inside my fire still glows bright and strong with faith.


Truth is a foundation that stays solid even when the tsunami hits.

The secret is this: give your emotions to God. Whenever an attitude strikes, lift it up and say, “Here, Lord, please take this.” When you’re feeling awful and you don’t know how to hold yourself together, pray “Help, Lord.”

Enjoy the emotional highs, but don’t trust them.  When the lows hit, don’t believe their whispers.

Look to the hills, where your help comes from. Look to the Rock that is higher than you–and yes, the Rock that is higher than your Inner Tsunami.


“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ 

And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him….”

– Matthew 14:27-31, NKJV –