Having joy in the midst of pain is possible, but only because God makes it possible. The Bible actually commands us to rejoice. Take a look at when Nehemiah called God’s people to rejoice. The command was contrary to what the Israelites wanted to do in that moment. All they could do was grieve as they listened to the Law of God, only to realize how far they have fallen. The glory of Israel was now in ruins. They were humiliated before the eyes of the world. The future looked bleak. God felt far. But in that moment, Nehemiah told them not to mourn or to weep, rather, to enjoy a meal and be strengthened (Nehemiah 8:9-10). It must have thrown them in a whirl at first, but the Levites took a moment to calm the people down and reiterate Nehemiah’s message. In the end, the people obeyed.
So, how do you obey the command to rejoice?
As a disclaimer, I do believe in the power of a disciplined mindset, a balanced lifestyle, and the support of a community. However, there are occasions when all of those things combined are not enough for someone that is in pain. Meditating on Scripture does work. Exercise can also do wonders to improve one’s mood. A gathering among trusted friends and family can truly lift up one’s spirits. Nevertheless, when one is undergoing deep pain, even opening one’s eyes through the tears can be laborious.
Yet, in Christ, the well of joy is still available for such a time as this. When Apostle Paul said, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), he wasn’t talking about acing tests or getting jobs. He was referring to the ability to have joy even while his heart and flesh were broken. Apostle Paul’s joy was possible because he gave God access to his wounds.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5)
Paul invited Jesus into the negativity. He welcomed Jesus into the place of his anxiety through prayer, thanksgiving, and requests. Now, this does not mean that Apostle Paul ignored his pain — joy is not found in the place of denial. However, it is also not found in the place of self-victimization or the blaming of others. It is found in a place of vulnerability with God.
You do not have to be blindly committed to positivity. Many feel guilty over the inability to bounce back and be happy. It is okay that you cannot just snap out of it. Your friends and church members may not be able to handle the depth of your sorrows, but God can! He already knows your thoughts, but allow Him to hear your words — the raw and uncut version. When you give Him the opportunity to see your anger, offense, and bitterness, you yourself receive the opportunity to experience the unconditional love of the Father. Your vulnerability with God is the open door for the Holy Spirit to come and do his healing work within you.
One of the most grievous times of my parenting journey was when my son underwent three years of severe eczema and allergies. Long story short, he was basically allergic to everything on God’s green earth. His hands were always covered with socks to prevent him from scratching himself. When he walked around, he always carried the scent of ointments and medication. Meal planning was a constant source of stress due to his food allergies. On top of all that, it took three hours to put this little boy to sleep every night because his itchiness tormented him. I was miserable. I would fast, pray, worship, read the Bible. I would give myself pep talks. I gave thanks in every moment. I even did some retail therapy, hoping some fancy makeup or shoes would lift my spirits. All of these things worked for only a moment.
It wasn’t until one night, when my son was —for some reason—extra difficult to put to sleep. By the third hour of holding him through his screaming and kicking, I just about had it. I was in a pitch black room, hungry and sleepy. I felt daunted by the multiple days of work piled up. I’ve been needing to pee for two hours. The realization led me to mutter in my heart, “This is not okay, God. This is not okay.” Up until then, I tried to be mature about everything. I tried to be the Christian that could rejoice in all circumstances. But that night, my heart — oh, my heart — burned with anger. I began to tell Him my truth.
I feel like you don’t care.
Are you entertained by this?
I’m so mad at you.
This is not fair.
It was there in that pitiful, ugly moment that the Spirit met me. He should have shown me wrath, but He showed me love instead. There was no lecture, no lesson, nor rebuke. I just felt as if I was wrapped up in a hug, a comforting release. I should have trusted in His goodness sooner. Up until then I was trying so hard to drink from my own well of joy, a well that was bone dry. I think it was because I did not trust Him. But once I reverted my eyes from my empty well to God’s overflowing one, a hope began to arise. It felt like God was up to something good. Even though I was frantically shouting in the storm, God did not seem phased by the strong winds and the high waves. In that moment having Jesus in my boat was enough to be at peace in my storm. Though my son was actually not healed until two years after this night (that’s a story for another day), ever since then I had strength — that’s what joy does. It gives you strength. It gives you grit. It gives you the courage to smile through fatigue and chuckle through disappointment. And it comes from Christ.
“Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)