As Christmas swiftly approaches, I find myself caught up in the spirit of the holiday season. I love hearing Christmas music on the radio and in the stores. I have even enjoyed the shopping and decorating, the two things I was dreading the most! I have tried to keep my focus on the reason we celebrate, and have been reflecting on the past year and what I have learned about joy and where it comes from. Being a generally positive and happy person, I thought I had joy figured out. This year has held many stressful and "unhappy" moments, so my usual optimism and carefree spirit have suffered some blows. But, this is December, a month to reflect on the year, learn from mistakes, let go of the baggage we have picked up along the way, and celebrate the joy, hope, and peace that Jesus brought to you and me when He came as a tiny baby, fragile and vulnerable. In my own quest for "real" faith and healthy spirituality, I have discovered a few things about joy, hope, and peace.
Happiness is defined by what HAPPENS to us. It is a fleeting moment, an unexpected kindness, a sense of well-being that lasts only until something 'bad' happens to take it away. I can call to mind moments of true happiness, but they are rare. I spent many years trying to find "lasting happiness" only to learn I was seeking something we were not meant to have this side of heaven. What I have found, through my many failures and missteps, is a kind of joy that lasts through the hardest of times. The kind of joy that comes from a soul at rest with its Creator, from knowing exactly who I am in Christ and believing that I am loved just as I am, not as I ought to be. The joy of knowing that I am forgiven, and seen as righteous because of what Jesus did for me, not because of my meager attempts at being "good enough". Maybe this is a basic truth, but it took many years for my heart to truly accept this and believe it. My joy comes from the freedom that I now feel to be myself, knowing that I am loved no matter what. No mistake, no failure, no sin, no bad decision or wrong motive can ever separate me from the love God has for me! I can finally be comfortable in my own skin, so to speak, without being afraid that God is mad at me.
Hope is hard to find, and even harder to hold on to. We have so many reasons in life to lose hope. I guess the question is this, what is it that we are hoping for? What have we set our sights and our hearts on that is supposedly going to make our lives better or easier? I have put my hope in money, in people, in jobs, in abilities, only to be disappointed time and time again. Over the past year, we have had financial problems, health issues that compounded the financial problems, and Michael has been job hunting without success in spite of his education and experience. So many nights I lay in bed worrying about these things. Will we be kicked out of our house? Will we be able to buy groceries this week? Can we pay the utility bill? After several months of this I began praying every time I would feel the worry kicking into high gear. I would ask God to meet our needs and show us what He wants us to do TODAY. Just for today. One day at a time. I began to realize that hope is about WHO your trust is in. If my hope and trust is in God, then I have no need to worry, because he loves me and knows what is best for me even when I can't see it. Often my prayer is simply this, "My hope is in You, God". Those few words can change my perspective on any situation, no matter how bleak!
Peace, in my opinion and experience, is the end result of finding our joy and our hope in Christ. Peace is the natural outcome of trusting God with our lives, and can't truly be obtained any other way. I once thought peace meant that I should always accomodate everyone else, not "make waves" or "rock the boat", essentially making me a doormat to those with stronger personalities. I believed peace came from easy circumstances, bills being paid, money in the bank, job security, and healthy relationships. The problem with that line of thinking is that I had little control over those things, so "peace" was rather difficult to achieve. Over the last few years, I have had some very 'UN-PEACEFUL" circumstances, many caused by my own choices, some by the choices of others. In the midst of the darkest times is where I learned that real peace has nothing to do with anything or anyone around me. I learned that peace comes from finding joy and hope in my relationship with Jesus, trusting that He will work in me to accomplish His purpose in my life, in spite of me or anyone else! My anxiety eventually became nothing more than an occasional unrest in my spirit, which I learned to give to God in a simple prayer of submission. I still forget sometimes. I have bad days, days when my focus is on the storm around me, days when peace seems as far away as heaven itself. But I am learning to go to God with my cares and frustrations, and leave them there in His hands.
My desires have changed. I no longer care only for my own comfort and security. I have a growing desire to see God's will accomplished in my life. I long to be useful to Him. That is in no way meant to be boastful, because it isn't a result of anything I have done. It is simply the work of God in my heart to accomplish His purposes. I am still as capable of failure and sin as I have always been, but I have to believe that the change in my desires will lead to change in my choices and behaviors and attitudes. I had to fall a long way down before I looked up, but when I did, my Savior was right there waiting. He didn't make me "pay". He had already paid the price for me. He restored the joy of my salvation, and gave me a clean heart. He renewed my spirit and set me on my feet again. If I fail Him again, He will be there for me still. This is, to me at least, real peace. I wish I did not have to learn everything the hard way, but I am resolved to make the most of every lesson in my life, so that hopefully it will not have to be learned again!
Joy, hope, and peace to you! May it be real and abiding in your life this Christmas and always!
Philippians 4:4-7 "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Psalm 62:5 "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him."
Psalm 147:11 "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love."
Romans 12:12 "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."