Advent 3: What Happened to Your Joy?

What has happened to all your joy? – Galatians 4:15 (NIV)

 When we moved from town to the country 40 years ago, we planted three kinds of fruit trees. I had visions of homegrown apples in bowls on the counter and sparkling jars of fresh canned peaches and pears.

For the most part, though, the vision remained just a dream. The apple trees never bore fruit, never grew more than three feet high, thanks to the deer. The peach tree produced luscious peaches for a few years then shriveled up and died. 

The only fruit trees remaining are two pear trees. One is dwarfed—I think because my son shot an arrow through it when it was still quite young. The other is leafy and laden with fruit come late summer, but the pears are small, misshapen and marked with black dimples. 

To produce more and better fruit, the trees need cultivated and nurtured. The problem is we don’t have a clue. Or maybe it’s because we haven’t made the trees a priority. Until we get serious about those trees, until we take the time to learn how to care for them and then do it, the trees will struggle along, producing little usable fruit.

I tell you this story because, like fruit trees, the fruit of the Spirit also needs to be cultivated and nurtured.  

Take joy, for example.

If there is anything missing from society today, it’s joy. Just look at the faces of people you see every day. Even believers, who should be oozing joy, are not. Joy should set us apart right off the bat. 

Do you remember the joy you had at salvation? Overflowing, spilling out, you couldn’t contain it. Then little by little, life robbed you of that joy. 

Life is going to happen. Although we can’t control it, we can control our reaction to it. We can choose joy. We can make it a priority and nurture it. 

How?

First, be aware of the joy stealers that chomp away at it or shoot it right in the heart. “If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into” (Luke 12:39 NLT). Know the burglars will come. Don’t let them in.

Forgetfulness is one of those burglars. Stuck in the mire of this earthly life, we forget our past and our future: from what we’ve been saved and what awaits us in heaven.

Legalism is another joy stealer. Religion—all that we do to try and earn heaven (which can’t be earned—see Ephesians 2:8–9) binds us. Relationship—our personal relationship with God through His Son—frees us. 

Unconfessed sin, disobedience, worry, anger, people and life are other joy stealers.

Being aware of these thieves will make you more alert when they try to rob you. And when they do, don’t let them in.

How can you replace the joy you’ve lost?

Simple: Ask the joy-giver—God Himself—to fill you with His joy and help you to sustain it. Seek His presence (“In your presence is fullness of joy.” – Psalm 16:10).

Choose joy. Nurture and cultivate it. Then spread it around, letting it overflow, spilling over onto those around you. 

 As we light the third candle on the Advent wreath — the pink one, which represents joy—may we remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Amen.

Read and reflect on Galatians 5:22–23.

            © 2015 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

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Bummed Out

When my anxieties multiply, your comforting calms me down. – Psalm 94:19 CEB

Last Sunday we lit the pink candle on the Advent wreath at church – the Candle of Joy. I was feeling anything but joy.

It’s been a trying year, and the previous week brought even more challenges. A dear cousin passed away from lung cancer. I hadn’t even known she was sick. After thorough exams by two eye doctors, we still don’t know why the vision in my left eye is cloudy. My children are scattered, all three living in different states: Michigan, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Three of our grandchildren who used to live next door now live over 30 miles away.

DH and I are staying home this Christmas instead of traveling.

And Christmas Eve . . . Ah, that’s going to be hard. We’ll come home after the candlelight service at church to an empty, quiet house. After a lifetime of noise, food, fellowship, fun, and family. No sitting in the rocking chair in the corner of the dining room, watching all the chaos.

So, yeah, I’m bummed out.

When folks ask how I am, I say “good.” What a lie! But if I told them the truth, what good would it do? Chances are I’ll get the following words of advice:

“Look on the bright side.”

“Count your blessings.”

“Put on a happy face.”

Well, I don’t wanna.

People mean well, but sometimes I just get tired of those adages, those clichés, those trite statements that seem to overlook my pain. I don’t want to look on the bright side, count my blessings, put on a happy face. Not when I feel my best days are behind me. Not when I feel alone and so very far away from those closest to my heart.

It got me thinking about the stuff of life that steals our joy. So I posted a question on Facebook: “What steals your joy?”

Here are the top three:

  1. Worry and anxiety. One person wrote, “Worrying and stressing over things I have no control over.”
  2. Other people and the way they treat us, with negative people taking the top spot in that category for siphoning the joy out of others. Following close behind were people who are mean, pushy, whiny, and selfish. One lady wrote, “My son being a jerk to me now.”
  3. Being compared and criticized. One woman wrote, “Being yelled at.” How sad.

Completing the Top Ten were finances (“being poor” one person wrote), illness, conflict/arguments/strife, pain, overthinking, and stress.

Looking over the list, I asked myself two questions: Which of the joy stealers come from outside forces and which from within myself? Which of them are ones I can control?

I came up with three things I can do when it seems I’m losing my joy.

First, know where true joy comes from – God. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, who abides in me. That being said, it’s OK to be sad. You can still have abiding joy when you’re grieving.

And it’s OK to struggle to navigate the times of transition. Life changes. It is not static, and we must change with it, whether we like it or not.

When you need to shift gears and adjust, know God is right there with you: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you,” He tells us in Isaiah 43:2. “When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Notice He says “when” – not “if.”

Second, control the joy stealers that you can. Avoid toxic, negative people. Rein in your finances by setting and adhering to a reasonable budget, paying down debt, and making wise purchases. Refuse to worry. Conquer it with prayer and Scripture.

And finally, when you’ve done all you can, give the rest to God.

What is stealing your joy? What are you going to do about it?

When I’m feeling bummed out, Lord, help me as I mourn my losses, adjust to change, and trust You to guide me on my life’s journey. And remind me that weeping may endure for a night, no matter how long that night is, but joy WILL come in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Read and meditate on Psalm 30

 © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.