As I have been thinking about joy, the word that keeps coming back to me over and over is “perspective.” What I have realized, is that most times I fall into a period of discontentment, or even despair, that a common denominator is that I have lost perspective in some way. One way this is true is that I forget to be thankful for the blessings in my life. For me, thankfulness is the key that unlocks the joy in my heart.
Of course, there have been times when my way was genuinely difficult. In those times, I had to discipline myself to be thankful and sometimes, I found it necessary to start small.
We all have times in our lives of intense sorrow, longing, or loss and what drives one person to the breaking point is entirely different from the thing that threatens to crush another. For me, the long, painful wait for my daughters’ homecoming was one of those times. Somewhere along the way, I reached a time that my heart was so wounded and bleeding that I was just going through the motions day after day.
Joy was nowhere to be found. In fact, it was so far removed from my life that the very thought of a joyful heart was foreign and seemingly impossible to me. One evening, I just had to get away and meet with God. I went for a drive and found myself at the historic cemetery in my town. I guess it seemed a fitting setting for all that felt dead inside of me. I walked among the graves, carrying my grief with me as I went and there I talked with God.
As I read the eighteenth and nineteenth century tombstones, it occurred to me that an astonishing number of them belonged to children who perished in their first year of life. In some cases, I found groupings of small markers bearing the same family’s name and I imagined the grief of their mother who had placed so many small bodies lovingly in the ground. Then, I came to a large flat marker, about five feet long. The child had died in infancy. His name was engraved there along with the dates which recorded the span of his short life. His parent’s names were there as well, but the bulk of the inscription was this verse of scripture:
“The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21”
Then, God whispered to my spirit, “Your daughters live!” Then, my mind was flooded with remembrance of all the perils my little ones had survived and how many others did not. I realized in that moment that although the wait had been far too long and the way far too hard, that God had spared them and sustained them. They lived!
And that was no small thing.
I dropped to my knees there in the cemetery next to the little one who did not and said, “Yes, Lord, they live. They could have died so many times, but they live. Thank you, thank you, thank you……..”
With that prayer, sorrow was for at least a moment overwhelmed by joy.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so focused on what is wrong and what is missing, that I forget to appreciate what is right and the rich blessings I have received from God’s hand.
Thankfulness. It is the key that opens the door to joy. Sometimes, we find it necessary to start small but what I have discovered is that once I begin practicing thankfulness, it grows! Soon, it is as if a veil is lifted and I see blessings all around.
And when I am so blessed, how can I not be filled with joy?