I woke up at 2 a.m. Saturday morning. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was. As it registered in my brain that it was still dark outside, I barely suppressed a moan. One of the worst parts of depression and anxiety, for me anyway, is the disruption of sleep patterns. I’m already tired all the time. I don’t need any help in that area.
Turning this way and that, I tried to get comfortable and float back into dreamland. It became quickly apparent that this wasn’t going to happen. I debated about going out into the living room, but the bed was so warm and I’m afraid of the dark. So, I flopped onto my stomach, smiling at my husband’s muffled protests, and began praying. I lifted up whatever and whoever happened to pop into my head, thankful that God understands that sort of weary, stream-of-consciousnesses kind of prayer.
More than once I turned to the idea of joy. For weeks now I have been searching out a definition that made any sort of sense. When others talked about joy, it took everything I had not to burst out screaming. What is joy? What does it mean? How do you get it? How do you keep it? Perhaps those seem like immature questions, and maybe they are. Maybe I’m immature. That doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that God answered. I’m not one of these people that hears an audible voice or sees flashes of light. The Lord knows me through and through and I have no doubt that He knows such things would scare me witless. This answer was a sparkling clear idea, an idea that I would have never thought up on my own, pressed into all the cracked places of my life. I trembled with the sureness of it.
What is joy? It is the ability to look beyond the darkness and into the hope of the light.
That is what God told me, and it makes perfect sense to my mind. I’ve always struggled with Hebrews 12:2. How could Jesus have possibly had any sense of joy as He took the punishment of the cross? Did the author of Hebrews miss that whole Garden of Gethsemane agony thing? Now I read that verse and I get it. Jesus was absolutely depressed, anguished, full of sorrow and I’d even say fearful in His humanity. He knew the pain and the torture that was going to come. He felt all of those things. He sweat drops of blood. But during those terrible hours, in the midst of that horror, He looked beyond the darkness of His situation and into the hope of the light. His joy came in knowing that many people would be saved because of His great sacrifice of love.
Please pause here and thank Jesus. He’s just so awesome.
Joy is a choice. It is always available to those of us who are hidden in Christ, but we have to pick it up, just like we have to pick up the rest of the fruit of the Spirit. It doesn’t just happen. We don’t wake up one morning in possession of all these godly qualities. We have to cooperate with God and obey His leading. Yes, we grow and progress, but we’re never fully “there” this side of Heaven.
I have always thought that I was a defective, terrible Christian because I have not understood or grasped joy. Right now I think I’ve made it far too complex a concept. Joy is….
1. Taking an antidepressant each morning.
2. Knowing that the past is in the past.
3. Living under the authority of God.
4. Knowing, not just believe, that I’m forgiven.
5. Pausing to delight in glimpses of Heaven – a beautiful sunset, a fragrant flower, the laughter of children, freshly baked cookies, a happy dog, etc.
Joy isn’t a form of denial. I can’t sit here and say that I’m not sad and angry. I can’t realistically expect to wake up tomorrow and have every problem in my life worked out. I’m depressed and I’m anxious. This is not, however, the reality. The reality is that this will pass. There is more. There is greater. There is brighter. Joy doesn’t mean that a smile will suddenly stretch across any of our faces in the midst of struggle. It means we get through the struggle in faith, relying on the strength of God and knowing – not just believing – that the best is yet to come.
It is my hope tonight that this idea speaks to someone and encourages them as it has me. God holds joy out to you. He will give you the ability to look beyond the swirling storm. All you have to do is take it.
For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.