There is a little bit that I wrote in my journal that reads, “You’re still growing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose joy.”
I’ve written this seven times now, over months and years. It’s been squished in sideways margins and has been boldly declared in the thickest ink. I have scratched it out in anger and have underlined it in ballpoint pen until the pages underneath begin to give way to its gravity.
What does it mean to choose joy? What does it mean to choose a life of whimsy and happy and positivity over hurt and suffering and all of the broken things that seem to snatch up lightness in the most ferocious of ways?
I went through a long stretch of time feeling that the phrase “choose joy” was so invalidating. To utter those words meant erasing the anxiousness in my heart and the hours of cries out to God each time I felt the dark places creeping in. I’ve met other people, too, who have confirmed this thought that to tell yourself to choose joy above all else is not the right thing. There have been voices and people and ideas that all say to lament and settle and dwell in the things that cause the most ache; it is these valleys that will shape and sustain us for goodness.
These things are good and they are true, in some capacity I believe. God gave me the power to put words to my struggles so long ago, which I in turn scripted in the back of an old composition notebook. He has placed these words on my heart time and time again, through the wandering, growing, mending seasons of my heart. He has given us this power to lament and cry out and name the fears that wreck our minds and cause us to weep so bitterly when darkness surrounds. He has given us language and validation to these things in the Psalms, as David pours out the biggest aches to a God who seems so far removed in these moments.
But our Father is one of mercy and of love. He is the Father, the protector, the comforter, of David in the same way that He is all of those things for you and I. He hears our pleas and receives all of the prayers and cries and questions (Psalm 6:10). He has given us peace and our hearts more joy than they have experienced in even the abundance of earthly things (Psalm 4:8-10).
The Psalms have given life to the words and hopes and desires I have carried around for so long, and allowed them to take root in tangible thoughts and prayers. There is time for grief and reflection and lament, and these things are not to be cast aside. There is beauty in sitting with the Lord, sitting with another one of His children and listening to the deepest pains of our hearts for purposes of empathy and of relief. I know that I spent so many years consumed in my sadness and anxiousness over the things I could not see. I was beaten down by thoughts not of my Father to turn away from people who showed joy and to keep all of the words and hurtful thoughts inside of myself, rather than breathing life into these pains by crying out to Him, crying out to my brothers and sisters.
Joy is a choice to make. It is a desire that the Lord has planted on my heart, and one that I believe He places on all of our hearts as they enter seasons of waiting and growing. It is a choice that I must earnestly and honestly decide to make every moment. There are seasons for lament and grief, but the carrying capacity of these struggles seems to be met best by the hope that our Father has given us to choose Him and happiness and peace as an end result to the deepest, darkest times.
My life has been radically wrecked and changed by the strength the Lord has given me through delight and joy (Nehemiah 8:9-10). He has allowed me, in this most beautiful gift, to see His people and creation in a new light that casts goodness and hope and awe. My deepest prayer is that the core of my happiness, the core of your happiness, can be attributed as a result of following and loving and declaring Him King of Kings.
True joy is Jesus. It is following Him, putting hope in Him, resting in the knowledge of His guiding presence. I have made the choice to choose joy in His word and in His people and most importantly in Him, even though this is sometimes the hardest decision to carry out into full.
Our Father has given us words and people and truth to validate the things that press and pull at our hearts. “Amen, Amen I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” (John 16:20)
Hold onto these promises, these words. Hold onto the joy He has allowed us to choose.
words by Erin McChurch and photo by Olivia Douglas