Q: How have you found joy in the Lord when facing hard things?
A: When Hayley, the True Woman blog editor, sent me this question, I almost laughed out loud. I’d been going through a difficult period, which had left me feeling wrung out, weary, and discouraged rather than joyful. Things had started to look up when, bam! We’re in the midst of a worldwide crisis. I needed a big reminder of what joy is (and isn’t) and how I could find it with uncertainty whirling around me.
8 Ways I Choose Joy
The circumstances I’m facing today aren’t the first hard things I’ve ever faced—nor will they be the last. But no matter the struggle, I need to choose to have joy. Here is a list of practices that have helped me choose joy. (Note: if you’re struggling with deep depression, please know that while these things can be beneficial in helping you choose joy, you might need help from a trusted Christian counselor or your doctor.)
1. Go to the Psalms
Spending time in God’s Word is always a great way to navigate any difficult circumstances, but when I’m stuck in yuckiness or I feel like sadness has me paralyzed, I go to the book of Psalms. I so appreciate David’s honesty, the rawness of emotion in his words. As I read, I realize I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way. And guess what? God can handle it!
Yet what strikes me the most—and what I really need to see—is the switch in David’s thinking that often happens in the middle of a Psalm. David starts off being afraid, angry, depressed. Then his perspective changes. He goes “into the sanctuary of God” (73:17); he “call[s] to God (55:16); he recognizes that God is his “fortress” and that the Lord will “let [him] look in triumph” on his enemies (59:9–10).
Just like David, when I take my mind off my own troubles and focus on the Lord, I’m able to get unstuck from my emotions and see how great God is and how He has blessed me.
Yes, reading your Bible and praying are the “churchy” answers, but we shouldn’t gloss over them too quickly—I shouldn’t gloss over them. Often, I can view prayer as just another thing to check off my list and get done, so I can move on to the rest of life. But that’s such a wrong attitude!
It’s incredibly freeing when I pour out my heart to God, tell Him about the things that hurt, and share what’s making it hard for me to keep going. By releasing all that pent-up emotion and casting all my anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7), I’m able to choose joy—and even gratitude. Which leads me to . . .
3. Give Thanks
First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And Ephesians 5:20 says that as Christ-followers, we are to be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Though if we’re experiencing something really awful, how in the world can we be thankful for that?
I’m not necessarily thankful for my hard things, but I am thankful that God is walking beside me and that He’s using my circumstances to change me into the person He wants me to be. I’m thankful that my experiences give me words to encourage others who are going through the same things (2 Cor. 1:3–4).
When I start to “count my blessings,” and “name them one by one,” I can see all the good gifts God is giving me and be reminded of how He’s worked in my life in the past and that He’s working in it now, even if I have no idea what He’s up to.
It’s amazing how music can change my mood. As I focus on the words of my favorite worship songs that describe who God is, His promises, and His care for us, I find myself singing along and (when I’m alone!) even belting out the truths found in the lyrics. This simple act shifts my mood, lifts my spirit, and gives me hope when I am feeling hopeless.
5. Do Something for Someone Else
When I’m feeling down and struggling, I want to sit on the couch, curl up in a blanket, and just be. (Cold cereal is an acceptable dinner for my kids, right?) It’s not easy to step away from what I’m feeling and unselfishly serve someone else, but it’s so worth it. When I stop thinking only about my struggle and help my child with homework, listen to a friend share about her own struggle, or make my family’s favorite meal (not cereal!), it’s a lot easier to have a joyful attitude.
Again, I’d much rather sit on the couch and binge watch my favorite show. But when I get up and take a walk (Breathe in that fresh air! Look at God’s creation!) or sweat to my favorite workout, it makes an amazing difference in my mood and my spirit. My circumstances haven’t changed, but moving gives me a readiness to face them and a lightness in my spirit that wasn’t there before.
What can lighten a down-in-the-dumps heart faster than a good laugh? Whether it’s a funny story, a clever meme, a gut-busting YouTube video, or just a joke from one of my kids, laughing helps me put down the heaviness of my situation for a moment and helps me feel revived. And guess what? God too prescribes a good dose of laughter. Proverbs 17:22 tells us “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” So, find something to tickle your funny bone!
8. Think About Home
As long as I’m here on earth, there will be suffering and hard things. Because I’m a follower of Jesus, though, it’s just temporary. I’m an alien and a stranger in this world, and my true home is in heaven (Heb. 13:14).
As the song “Almost Home” from Mercy Me reminds me, disappointment, tiredness, and desperation aren’t forever. I need to remember what lies ahead, that one day my burdens will be gone and I will be in my forever home with Jesus.