Looking for the Lifeline of Joy
by Pam Farrel
No doubt—people today are stressed! While writing 7 Simple Skills for Every Woman: Success in Keeping It All Together, I came across a study that concluded that 83% of all Americans express stress is robbing their happiness, and 72% of women say stress negatively impacts their joy.
With these and other symptoms of stress in our society on my heart and mind, when God brought the opportunity to write the devotionals for my newest book, Discovering Joy in Philippians: A Creative Bible Study Experience, I prayed for a simple way to help people process their stress and move into joy. So, I dissected how God moved Bill and me through the most difficult, stressful season of our life.
Growing up in the home of an abusive father, I learned early to “choose joy” despite my stress or circumstances. However, it was when I was married at the 25-year mark, with three almost grown sons, that a life storm rolled in, threatening to suck out all the joy and replace sunshine with dark, foreboding clouds of doubt.
The storm surge hit during one of our book media tours for Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti. Bill wasn’t feeling well, so we went to the ER where a doctor informed him that he had high blood pressure. That news caught Bill’s attention. His dad had a stroke in his 40s that left him paralyzed, and Bill’s grandfather died of a stroke in his early 40s. Soon it became apparent that God was asking Bill to resign from the lead pastor role he had served in for 15 years. This decision was difficult emotionally and financially. In this same season, our youngest son, Caleb, was hit in a football game and rushed to the hospital where he needed a blood transfusion to save his life. Eight days later, when we brought Caleb home, we received calls about my other two sons who had both also experienced serious injuries. Then I got a call that my younger brother was hospitalized after having a heart attack and I was needed to help with his kids. My stress was welling up like a tidal wave.
When friends would ask, “How are you?” I didn’t know how to answer. I was familiar with Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” To rejoice is a verb, an action, we take to be favorably disposed to joy and gladness. But how does one choose joy when it feels like your life is being tossed about in life’s hurricanes?
Look UP: I immediately went on a joy hunt. I read Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” so I gathered an extensive list of verses on joy. I printed them, studied them, tried to memorize them, posted them on sticky notes as art around my home. I needed to soak in joy, pondering the verses again and again, in order to hang on to joy. I was praying verses like:
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalm 16:11).
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).
Look BACK: Retrace God’s faithfulness in your life. I keep a “Joy Journal,” a scrapbook of sorts that records my prayer requests and praises as God answers. During this particularly tough season, I was the Women’s Ministry Director, so I invited all the women of our church to a scrapbook party where we each made a photobook with pictures of the people and prayer requests that were heavy on our heart. Using colorful pens, we wrote verses of peace, hope, love and joy around each photo—careful to leave a space for the answer to the request to be recorded. Praying verses of joy is like the lifesaver, tossed to rescue you when you feel life is drowning you with sorrow.
Look OUT: Don’t go through tough times alone. I found it helpful to prayer walk with friends, and as we walked, we prayed Scripture and we praised God for His faithful character—and because we were exercising, happy endorphins were also released!
Look AHEAD: On her 70th birthday, I asked a cheery mentor who had overcome illness herself and created a path of hope after the death of her spouse, “How do you hold on to joy?”
She replied, “Always plan something to look forward to.” For me, if those items on my calendar are a mix of replenishment and activities to redeem, restore or renew the hope and joy of others, I am happier. Keeping an “others-centered” life lifts your spirits! During this tough time, a friend also said to me, “Life is too short to live looking in the rearview mirror.” This matches the wisdom in Philippians: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14).
This life-stage squall raged for three years. However, in God’s hands, by “choosing joy,” God transformed those roaring waves into the very power we needed to surf safely to shore.
Pam Farrel is a relationship expert, international Bible teacher, and together with her husband, Bill, she is Co-Director of Love-Wise. She is also the author of 49 books including the best-selling Discovering Hope in the Psalms and Discovering Joy in Philippians: A Creative Bible Study Experience (co-authored with Jean E. Jones and Karla Dornacher [Harvest House]). Connect with Pam at www.Love-Wise.com and on the Bill and Pam Farrel Facebook page.
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