“Can you bottle up your joy?”
A friend asked me this question a few weeks ago, and the truth is that joy can be hard to find. Here in El Salvador, sometimes it’s a fight for joy. We have had tough conversations with friends because of the situation in the country. El Salvador is the deadliest country in the world, and it’s hard not to see that every day. Our friends are searching for hope in a place that only seems to become more hopeless. In our daily lives we confront extreme poverty, homelessness, gangs, and people in constant need. Add that to a city where common courtesy seems distant and hope is just hard to find.
Psalm 16:11 (ESV)
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
“Is it worth it?”
This is a question that I ask myself. As missionaries, we must push past the pain of the despair that surrounds us. We shift to survival mode, we move forward. But there is a danger in living that way, a danger in becoming numb to the hurt around us. It becomes far too easy to simply pass it by, instead of engage with the pain. We sit with friends and hear them ask if things will get better, because the country seems restless all around us. There is a memory of recent war, and a fear that we stand on the brink of another one. How can joy be found in the midst of so much uncertainty, of so much unrest?
Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)
10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
“Where does joy really come from?”
In the quiet, my heart tells me that it comes from the Lord. Our time in El Salvador is precious, and it has brought me a joy that only comes from Him. The fight for joy, the effort, is worth the sacrifice because we have the opportunity to invest in the lives around us. We see lives changed for Christ. If just one person can share their story with me, it is worth it all. The sacrifice is not in vain when I sit with a lonely single mom who desperately wants to be loved, when a friend shares marriage difficulties and I listen. The effort is all worthwhile when I bring snacks to the parents at our kids’ school as we wait for basketball practice to finish. In those moments, joy is clear again. It’s not happiness, it’s not even a feeling at all. Joy is my commitment to remain faithful in my walk with Christ.
James 1:2-4 (ESV)
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Last year I led a Bible study about joy. I was challenged to look at the root of joy. So many times we associate joy with being happy, smiling, and laughing. These things are byproducts of joy, but they aren’t the thing that formulates it. Joy in its truest from comes from within us, from a deep understanding that God is with us.
“The joy of the Lord IS my strength.”
This is a joy that has nothing to do with my feelings, passions, or desires. This is a joy that has everything to do with who God is in my life, my faith, and my understanding of his unconditional love for me. Joy comes from His sacrifice, His commitment, and who I am becoming in Him. When the Lord is the foundation of who I am, I will find joy.
Grasping at happy moments in my life does not bring me joy. If I relied on those moments, a glance out my car window in El Salvador would tip the scales away from happiness and toward despair. But looking at that window, and having those tough conversations, with the joy of the Lord as my strength changes everything. Joy is a place of trust and forgiveness, of constant assurance that I belong to God.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (ESV)
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
My friends know that I LOVE to laugh and smile, and I can’t help it! Sometimes I laugh just to laugh and my husband has to ask why I’m even laughing. It’s not always because something is funny, sometimes I just have to let that laugh out. There are reasons not to laugh or smile, but I choose to find the tiniest reason to laugh, to smile, to experience joy. The truth is that it is a choice that I make regardless of my circumstances.
Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
“Can you bottle up your joy?”
Friends, that is a choice that we all can make every single day. Allow the Lord to be your strength and keep fighting for joy.
Con Mucho Amor, Cristina