Over the past few months, my life has taken a turn that I can't say I ever expected. It has been new and hard in a different way than I have ever experienced, and at times I have never felt so disheartened or so heartbroken. At times, I feel as though I have lost all the will and motivation to keep going. It has felt like every time I stand up, I am immediately knocked right back down. I found myself dealing with anxiety and depression to a greater extent than I ever have before in my life.
I began reaching out in all directions, trying to find a way to alleviate my pain. Surely some verse, or some book, or some song would be the magic trick, providing something I can hang onto, allowing me to rest in God's promises. I ended up feeling alone, abandoned, frustrated. Why wasn't God taking away this emotional pain?
As the new year approached, I spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God what He had in store to teach me this upcoming year. As many around me made resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, etc, I asked God how He wanted me to grow, what I needed to learn in order to follow His will and bring Him glory. Simple. Two words.
Stop expecting joy. Stop sitting around waiting for it to just show up. Choose joy. Wake up every day and make the active decision to be joyful.
However, there is so much more to it than just jumping out of bed saying "I'm going to be joyful today!" That doesn't work. Believe me, I tried!
So how do we combat anxiety and depression and pain and actively choose joy?
1) Stop treating the symptoms.
Anxiety and depression, most of the time, is not the actual problem. It is a symptom of another underlying problem. What is making you anxious? School? Relationships? Money? Family? Address the root of the problem. Taking tylenol for the fever does not make the flu go away. It only treats the symptoms, and if you don't attack the underlying problem, it will only come back.
2) Trust your Defender.
Trust God to carry your burdens. He died a terrible and devastating death on the cross so that He could carry your burdens for you. Let Him. There is no need for you to be anxious when God carries all of our anxieties for us! Trust Him to carry them. He stays awake all night, never sleeping, to defend us and protect us and comfort us (Psalm 1:21). He hears our call, and triumphs over our enemies (Psalm 18:2)
3) Remember the end.
Although sometimes suffering seems to never end, although it seems sometimes we are knocked down every time we can finally stand again, although sometimes it seems that we might just have to learn to live full of pain, remember the end. It is coming. There is an end to your suffering. Even the valley of the shadow of death has an end, and it leads to the beautiful pasture where we can rest with our Shepherd. Weeping may continue through the night, but joy always comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5b).
4) Let Him be your light.
Let Jesus be your joy. Let Him be your light that guides you. When you follow the Light, you will always rise again. Even in the darkest night, the Light always shines brightly (Micah 7:8). So completely surround yourself with the Light! Lightness and darkness cannot exist in the same place, both physically and spiritually. By choosing to let Jesus be your Light, you are choosing joy.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go watch the sunrise in the mountains with one of my best friends at a chapel commonly referred to as "Pretty Place." Even though it involved waking up at nearly 4:00am, dragging my sleepy dog into the car, waking up my friend and dragging him into the car, and driving an hour and a half in the pitch black up the side of a mountain, it ended up being an absolutely transforming moment in my quest for joy.
As we sat in the dark, waiting for the sun to come up. It was freezing cold, and I was ill-prepared. Initially, I was disappointed, because the mountains were covered with this thick fog. Now I realize that it was the most perfect illustration of what it means to choose joy. Despite the fog, the darkness, the cold, and the clouds, the sun still rose. And it was all the more beautiful because of it. In the same way, sometimes we live in the fog, the cold, the dark. Sitting and waiting. But the sun will rise, the Light comes. Joy comes. When we choose to take the steps in our quest to discover joy, it comes. Sometimes it involves enduring pain (or early mornings haha), enduring exhaustion, enduring anxiety and depression, but the sun will rise. The Light will rise. So choose joy.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead. 1 Peter 1:6