By all appearances, it was an ordinary day. I remember it was a rather hot spring day, and the sky seemed to burst with blue. Everything on the home front was ordinary – waking tired kids, grabbing quick breakfasts, and rushing out the door for school. My sister was in town, and we discussed plans for the day. This is where the atypical crossed into my ordinary. Our plan for the day was to tell my young, sixty-year-old mom the devastating news that she would be moved permanently to a care center. She would move from a nice two-bedroom apartment to a room smaller than most college dorms because of the fast progression of her brain disease.
This was no ordinary day.
Sketched in my memory forever is my mom sitting in her wheelchair making a bellowing sound that took my breath away. She could no longer form words, so this sound communicated her depth of sadness when we told her the news. She didn’t want the disease. She didn’t want to be wheelchair bound. She wanted to speak, walk, and play with her grandkids. Mom wanted to go home, and we couldn’t fix any of it. My sister and I held her hands and told her repeatedly that it would be OK. I found myself whispering, “The move is just for a time, Mom.” I knew it wasn’t true; she knew it wasn’t true. I was merely searching desperately for anything that might take the pain away.
This was no ordinary day.
The Lord graciously gives seasons of respite in this life, but there are also seasons filled with difficult and unordinary days. Whatever the reason for the struggle you may be facing, God’s Word speaks into your pain. But, what the Bible says to do in the midst of trials seems counter-intuitive: rejoice! How is it possible to have joy in the midst of sadness?
A Settled Satisfaction in Christ
I remember roaming my mom’s apartment, when the weight of her circumstance forced me to drop to my knees. I wept, asking the Lord to show me how to do what He had called us to do. The verse from Nehemiah 8 kept coming to mind: “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.” I had been on a quest after my dad died to understand what it meant to have joy, and more than ten years later I found myself asking the same question: Is it really possible to have joy in sorrow?
First, we must understand what Biblical joy is. Throughout Scripture, the words joy and happiness are used interchangeably. So, it’s true that when we’re joyful we can also be happy. But Biblical joy goes deeper than happiness. James says, “Consider it joy when you face trials of any kind.” The writer does not intend for us to put on a smile and be “happy” when we face difficulty— we can’t be happy when we’re sad, but we can have joy because of Christ’s work in us. We can sing, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” in a minor key because happiness is not necessarily present when joy is.
In Philippians 1: 3-11, Paul is filled with joy because of the gospel and the effect it is having on the lives of those in the church of Philippi. Happiness comes and goes, but joy can and should remain constant because of the hope we have in Christ. I like to define joy as a settled satisfaction in Christ and in His provisions.
See Christ and Have Joy
The pressing question, then, is how we can live joy-filled lives in the midst of trials. Psalm 16 is one passage that can help us understand how we can have joy even on days that are unordinary and difficult.
David had his share of trouble, and he likely wrote this Psalm during the years he was running from king Saul. He begins with a plea for God to preserve his life, and then he looks to Christ. In the verses that follow his plea, David shifts his focus and sees Christ. He sees the Sanctuary that Jesus provides in Himself when he exclaims, “…in you I take refuge.” He sees Christ as his ultimate satisfaction – nothing else (and no one else!) can bring peace like Jesus can: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup…” And then David sees the sovereignty of God and the daily support given through His Word.
But the most beautiful part of the Psalm comes in verse 9. The result of David seeing Christ is that his heart is glad and his whole being rejoices. The Psalmist acknowledges my own heart’s desire: “In your presence there is fullness of joy.” It’s not that being in the presence of God makes all difficulty disappear; it’s not that in the presence of God there are no tears and questions; but, in the presence of God, there is fullness of joy. We are given a settled satisfaction in Christ and in His bountiful provisions.
I experienced this joy as I wept over my mom during her last hours. My sisters and I whispered, “We love you, Mom,” and with three blinks she responded: “I love you.” While my heart ached, it burst with joy in Jesus because of the hope I have in Him, and because of the hope my Mom had in Him. And because I could sense the nearness of my Savior, I was joyful in Jesus.
See Christ in the mist of the days that are not ordinary. See His provisions when the road is marked with suffering, and in Him, there is a settled satisfaction. In Christ there is joy.
About the Author:
Katie is wife to Chris, a PCA pastor at Trinity church in Kirkwood, MO, and together they have three children, Ella (15), J-Rod (13), and Lily (9). Katie works as the music director at Trinity and serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee. She also spends much of her time writing, teaching piano, leading women’s Bible studies, and speaking to women’s groups about the joy she has found in Christ. Katie serves on the board of Covenant College, where she graduated with a BA in English Education, and is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Theology from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. For more information, as well as various blog entries, you can visit her website at www.katiepolski.com.