Joys are always on the way to us. They are always traveling to us through the darkness of the night. There is never a night when they are not coming.
If joy is a promised gift from God, then it was one that for most of my life was either hidden from me or that I hadn’t yet learned to open. And I’ve met countless others who have felt just as I did. The journey of discovering true joy was, for me, long and difficult. I share it with you in the hope that it might make your journey of discovering joy less of an obstacle course than mine was. I share it as a way of offering hope to those who believe that joy is an unattainable gift.
It is amazing to me that many people who meet me now say, “Jan, your face radiates so much joy . . . it gives me hope.” But it has not always been this way. There was a time, after the deaths of my parents and during Dave’s battle with cancer, when I experienced an oppressive depression and knew no joy. I remember lying in bed, feeling a black fog engulf every part of my life. Nothing looked good; life had lost all joy. I couldn’t feel God’s presence, and I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to believe in Him. Nor could I remember what joy felt like.
Total exhaustion, burnout, and depression drove me to my bed for a solid month, but staying in bed wasn’t helping. So I forced myself to get out of bed, although I was still very weak. I sat at my dining room table, sipping a cup of tea and gazing out the window at the flowers in my backyard garden. I sat there wishing life could go back to the way it used to be. The leaves on the trees were swaying in the breeze and shimmering in the sunlight. Their lovely spring green was deepening into a shade that heralds the coming of summer. I watched a sparrow hop from branch to branch, stopping to chirp as if tuning the notes of his song. He seemed to sing a song of joy, a song I couldn’t yet sing, but his bright song reminded me that joy was still alive somewhere. For that, I was grateful.
At that moment, an impression came to me unbidden. It was this: All your life, Jan, you have tried to be in total control, to remove pain and create your own happiness by manipulating people and circumstances. It has been like a juggling act for you. But Jan, it’s not up to you. You need to let go. If you let go, I’m going to show you a joy you’ve never known. . . .
Letting go was not easy. It wasn’t something I knew how to do. Letting go meant learning to trust God and His promises no matter what my circumstances were.
I did not learn this overnight, but God proved Himself faithful. And one spring day three years later, I was sitting at my dining room table, sipping a cup of tea and looking out the window at the mountains. The pine trees surrounding our home were swaying gently in the breeze, and the flowers in the pots on my deck were blooming, heralding the coming of summer. I had a sense that I had experienced this day before.
Then it dawned on me. This day reminded me of the day I was sitting at my dining room table in Ohio, the day when the Lord told me to let go, the day He promised He would show me a joy I’d never known.
As I recalled that promise, I realized that the joy God promised me had become a part of my everyday life, a joy that comforts the soul. I have a joy in knowing that God is my Father, that He cares for me. I have joy in knowing that I don’t have to be in constant control of other people or every situation and in knowing that I don’t have to fear the future or strain to make it unfold the way I think it should. I have joy in knowing that the fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders—but on His.
Today, I focus on living, loving, and trusting God. I enjoy what each day brings, and cast all my cares on God as they come. This is the joy I’d never known!