It’s really amazing how something as little as an e-mail can alter your entire perspective on life. Something as little as two words can pierce through your soul and bring your world into a different light, and that is absolutely amazing to me.
My class is going on a senior trip toward the end of May, and our school has us do mission work while we’re on the trip. Because of this, I’ve been e-mailing back and forth with a lady who used to work at my high school. I had just learned that her husband died of cancer last year. In my initial e-mail to her, I told her how sorry I was for her loss and that I would be praying for her. I also offered her our services for the week of our trip and told her to let me know if she needed anything, or had any work that we could do for her. I sent the e-mail off, said a quick prayer for her because I had told her that I would, and went to my next class period. The e-mail was no big deal to me. After all, it was one of my jobs as class president to contact people and arrange activities.
It was two weeks later, and I hadn’t heard anything. My class advisor was pressing me for answers that I did not yet have and to be honest, I was getting frustrated. I knew she was probably busy and held off my advisor for a little longer. I went home after another class officer meeting and checked my e-mail for what seemed like the thousandth time. “Please God, please let her have e-mailed me back! This can’t wait much longer.” I prayed silently. I opened g-mail and BOOM! There it was! The e-mail I had been waiting for! “Finally!” I sighed. I opened the e-mail and read her reply. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment as I read that she would be out of town the week we would be in her area. I paused while reading the e-mail and sighed. All of the other people we had contacted to do mission work for had turned us down. We were back to the drawing board once again. I finished reading the e-mail and as I was about to close it out, I caught how she had signed it. I stopped. I read it, and then I read it again. Two little words and a name. That is all that was there, but it stopped me dead in my tracks.
That was all that it said, but those words hit me like a punch in the gut. Choosing joy. Choosing joy. Choosing joy! This was a woman who lost her husband to cancer not even a year ago! And here she was signing her e-mail “choosing joy”! What an inspiration! I sat there and read it over and over. This woman was choosing joy, and so should I.
Most people who know me, wouldn’t think that choosing joy would be something that I struggle with, most people would probably tell you that I am the human equivalent of rainbows and unicorns. To be completely honest with you, even I didn’t think that choosing joy would be something that I struggled with until lately. There has been a lot of negativity in my life recently. A lot of people who have been telling me their problems and while they are extremely valid problems, I’ve been struggling to help them. That is a problem for me because I can typically help anyone with any problem, just so long as they come to me. And for some reason lately, I’ve just been getting frustrated instead of being my usual empathetic self and working through their problems with them.
See, when I look back on my younger years I see a lot of pain. More pain than any person or family should ever have to go through. So much pain that my entire past is blurred and smeared and ripped to shreds so small that I can hardly make sense of anything farther back than the 7th grade. All these years I’ve shoved my feelings down over and over and now I’ve finally reached the point of where my feelings can’t be pushed down anymore. I’ve let it turn to bitterness.
Lately, instead of thinking: “I’ve felt a lot of pain in my life, and you’re feeling some pain right now, maybe I can use my experiences of pain to help you with your experience of pain.” like I usually would. I’ve been thinking: “Do you even know what pain is? This is so stupidly insignificant to the things I’ve gone through and am still going through! I can’t believe that this, this is what you are upset over.” I sound like a jerk, don’t I? While I’ve never said these things out loud, I’ve thought them, and I know that that is equally as bad.
I’ve been letting all my built-up years and years of pain, slowly crystallize into bitterness that has hardened my heart to some people’s hardships. The funny thing was, I didn’t even realize it! I knew I was getting annoyed more often than normal, but I couldn’t figure out why. At least not until Kathy e-mailed me. After I read her e-mail I realized I had forgotten to choose joy.
I was so wrapped up in comparing my situation to others’ and was getting so frustrated by the fact that people didn’t understand that the wounds of my past still ached more often than not, that I had forgotten to choose joy. Instead, bitterness took over in my heart and I envied several of my friends who had recently gone through break-ups and said that it was the most painful experience of their lives. Inside I was crying and screaming out “I wish that a breakup was the most painful experience I have ever been through. But no! I had to go through X and Y and I’m still dealing with Z. You guys don’t know what pain is, not at all.”
I had forgotten that in the midst of the little mess that I call my life, God still reigns supreme. He has blessed me in so many ways and given me a past that is both a burden and a blessing. While I hate some of the things that have happened to me and do not understand some of the things that I am currently going through, I know that in the end, all of these things will be used for God’s glory.
So today, I am once again choosing joy. And I want to encourage all of you to do the same thing. No matter what you are going through, there is a way to give God glory for it. Trust me. The ugliest, blackest, stormiest night can be turned into a beautiful way to praise God. Trust Him. He knows what He is doing.
Psalm 30:5 – “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Psalm 28:7 – “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”
James 1:2-4 – “ 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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Nehemiah 8:10b – “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”