Difficult seasons make it hard to find purpose in the pain, but stay hopeful and look for your own silver lining in the trial.
WHEN THINGS DON’T GO YOUR WAY
When I was 18 years old, I thought I knew what the rest of my life would look like. I would go to college in Texas, graduate with a degree as an Art Teacher and move home to Virginia.
I didn’t plan on meeting the man I was going to marry 48 hours after I arrived at college, and spend the rest of my life as a Texan. Or that my professors would discourage me and I’d drop out of the art program two years in.
I certainly didn’t know that my husband and I would go through the trials that lay ahead of us, dealing with a death in the family and a chronic illness that left me bedridden. I didn’t plan on needing a nanny to take care of my kids while I got better or being a plane ride away from my family, but it happened.
And if I had continued to choose to be bitter and angry about all the times I didn’t get my way or when life just seemed to be plain rough, I would have written another new future for myself: a sad, lonely, pity party of a life.
FINDING THE SILVER LINING
In the early years of our marriage, I was sad and uncertain about staying in Texas far away from my family. But when my mother-in-law got sick and my husband needed to be with her every weekend, I felt purpose in staying. And when my first child was born three weeks after her death, I knew my son was here to be a comfort to my father-in-law.
As an elementary teacher, I was disappointed about not pursuing my art degree. But two years in a row I had a student who lost their parent during the year. I felt purpose, a strange coincidence that I was the teacher to help both kids through it.
Then as a mother, my second child came easily, but my body didn’t follow suit and I ended up with a chronic illness. I wondered, why now, when I wanted to be able to snuggle with my children. I wanted to be the one to take them to and from school. It wasn’t until almost five years later, that I saw purpose in that pain. I see the impact I’m making on others struggling with their own hardships when I train myself to see the good in difficult situations. That very-much-needed silver lining.
We have the option to choose our mindset in every moment of every day. Yes, it is work. It is a discipline to guard your thoughts and choose positive ones, but well worth the trouble.
So many blessings are waiting for you if you have the eyes to see them.
Don’t be afraid! Your hardship may be filling you with fear and anxiety. Focus on what is good and what is true–what is hopeful and brings peace to others. Focus on looking for a silver lining.
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Let me encourage you as you go through your own trials in my Fear + Anxiety Workbook. It’s Bible-based and walks you through verse studies on fear, peace, trials and mindset. It also includes verse coloring pages! You can order it in my shop:
Choosing joy is exactly that: a choice. Use these tips to train yourself to be able to choose joy today–especially in hard times.
CHOOSING JOY IN GOOD TIMES IS EASY
My favorite place to be is at the beach. Toes in the sand, wind in my hair, sun on my cheeks, waves crashing in the distance. Eventually the beach gets a little hot and I need to cool off in the water. I may scoot my chair up right as the water hits the sand so it splashes on my legs while still reading my book, or walk out just far enough get my bathing suit damp to lie out some more in the summer heat.
Something calls me back to the beach each year. It’s a place of reflection, renewal and relaxation for me. I could sit and stare at the ocean or close my eyes and listen to its sounds for hours. I don’t need to bring anything with me to enjoy the beach (except maybe a little sunscreen).
My worries and fears seem to melt away with the hot sun when I look out and think about what it is I’m really seeing. Intense power, creation at its finest, great mystery, endless possibilities. A reminder that there is a greater power at work in the world. That God formed and shaped all of this before He made me.
The beach is an easy place for me to be joyful.
However, I can’t make it to the beach everyday. It would be convenient to escape to our joyful places whenever we wanted, but even then our circumstances don’t always allow us to a take a break from thinking about them.
So how do we access joy when life gets hard?
CHOOSING JOY IN BAD TIMES IS HARD
I ran across a journal entry from a few years back on a particularly hard day where I was faced with a decision. Would I choose joy in this awful season in my life?
March 21, 2017
After a week of being in and out of doctors offices and a trip to the hospital, I was so frustrated that I was still struggling to breathe and throwing up from the pain. I decided that even though I didn't understand why God was allowing this to happen, I would trust him and choose joy anyway. The next day I got outside more, and felt a peace and calm I hadn't in weeks. I stopped crying about it. The pain slowly started getting better from the third round of steroids I had started a few days earlier. That day the specialist called asking if I could come in Monday instead of in six weeks because there was a cancellation.
The meeting went awesome. Loved the doctor and he's working with my holistic doctor to help me get back on track. It will be a long process of healing, but as we're learning more about my body and the causes of these flare ups, we'll be better able to get them under control.
But the lesson God continues to remind me and my family of is that whether or not we understand, whether or not we feel heard, he is sticking with us and giving us peace when we ask for it. I know that God can do great things through bad circumstances and I am renewing my trust in him every hard day I have. Today is a great day for me mentally and physically and I am so thankful for the friends and family that have been so helpful and encouraging about this frustrating condition over the past two years.
My advice to others is this: Look for God. Cry out to God and get angry if you have to, but know this: He is good. Don't stop talking to Him. God is good all the time. All the time God is good. He won't always offer you physical healing, but he is there for spiritual healing if you'll just trust that he can. I'm still not sure I like that lesson, but I have to believe it's bigger than my small understanding of how the world works. Open your eyes. He's there!
I sit back and wonder how I could have chosen joy in that moment.
I don’t remember writing those words—in fact, that time seemed like one big depressing blur. But there I was—an actual miracle choosing joy and experiencing peace in a time I should have crumbled. I was even giving advice to hypothetical people in this entry, that I can now share with you!
How gracious is our God.
JOY IS SUPERNATURAL
Just a few months later, I wrote these words:
July 25, 2017
Thank the Lord I am not where I was--lost and without a diagnosis. Thank you to all the people in my life that held my hand and encouraged me on my darkest days. Still have a ways to go but I no longer feel like I'm drowning with no end in sight. The Lord is teaching me so much through this experience regardless of my joy or anger toward him at the moment. One thing I know, is that he is real and he is with me.
I don’t want life to just happen to me, I want to enjoy my life. To live with purpose and intention. To recognize that there can be a plan for how to deal with bad days, tough times and that it has to do with choosing joy, remaining calm and trusting in the Lord.
And in that, to notice the little things, like celebrating my children, who watched in confusion as I suffered and worried each and every day. Who in frustration and love reached out to comfort me. Whose words of encouragement and acts of silliness cheered me up and helped me focus on what I was fighting for on the worst of my days.
Looking back, I see the seeds God was planting that I have witnessed come to fruition over the past year. I didn’t know what the purpose was for my pain, I just trusted one step at a time. As I continue to improve, but still have difficult days in this disease process, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness and his willingness and ability to shape good things out of bad situations.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TELL US ABOUT JOY?
Our Joy Comes From the Lord
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my JOY may be in you, and that your JOY may be full. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’” John 15:10-12
We Experience Joy Because of His Goodness
“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the forest sing for JOY before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” 1 Chronicles 16:32-34
Joy is Found in Our Savior
“And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they REJOICED exceedingly with great JOY.” Matthew 2:9-10
We Find Joy in His Presence
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of JOY; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
Joy Gives Us Renewal
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” Psalm 30:4-5
Our Faith Gives Us Joy Which Produces Hope
“May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
We Find Strength Through Our Joy
“For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for JOY. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:6-7
Joy is Produced from Following the Holy Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
We are Joyful When We Praise Him
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord–let us make a JOYFUL noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a JOYFUL noise to him with songs of praise!” Psalm 95:1-2
Joy is Found in Perseverance
“Count it all JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2
MY ADVICE FOR CHOOSING JOY IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES
While everyone’s situation is different, here are my personal tips on how I was able to choose joy and continue to in hard times:
While choosing joy is difficult, choosing fear is not. I’ve created printables for you to work through what the Bible says about fear and use it as a tool to help you transform your anxiety into joyful living. You can purchase it in my shop:
Spending time with God is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Find out what spending time with God means and learn ways to implement it in your everyday life.
THE HABIT OF SPENDING TIME WITH GOD
We hear it all the time. We know we should do it. But does anyone really explain what in the world it means to “spend time with God”?
You can’t call him up for coffee, or go on vacation together. There is no date night to schedule—so how is it that people are spending time with God?
To me, spending time with God looks different in each season of my life.
As a child, I spent time with God when my family took me to church or prayed at the dinner table.
As a teenager, I wanted to learn more about why we centered our lives around Christianity and whether I ”bought into it” or not. I decided to get baptized and took ownership for my own faith.
When I was a college student, my faith was tested for the first time. I failed at it in many instances, but it was always there, tugging at me to remember the grace of God and the purpose I found through relationship with him.
When I was a young 21-year-old newlywed, I realized that I had distanced myself so far from God that I didn’t know how to get close to him anymore. I began to pray more fervently and journaled to God in the form of prayer. I still felt like I was talking to an empty room at the time, but a pulling on my heart told me that this relationship wasn’t going to come back overnight.
Week by week, I spent a little more time with him by going back to church and joining Bible studies led by older women.
GROWING THROUGH HARDSHIPS
A few years later as a new mom, I was depressed and overwhelmed, and had left all of my working friends behind as I morphed into a stay-at-home-mom. When I plugged into a group of new moms at church, I saw this community of young Christian women as another way to spend time with God.
We prayed for each other, hung out together, and swapped stories and babysitting. These times were an immense boost in my faith—raw, honest conversations about the struggles of motherhood and the dependence on Jesus.
I began learning a new way to pray—as a conversation that lasted all day—like texting with a friend. It began with: “Lord, thank you for this day” and then into “Lord, get these children to listen” to eventually “Lord, give me the motivation to do this again tomorrow”. I wrote to God in journals, modeled praying to him with my children, and talked to him throughout the day.
Overtime, I saw what he was doing in my life–growing me spiritually one hard day at a time–training me to rely on his strength and wisdom and guidance in everything that I did.
And then as a ”seasoned” mother, I was tested once again when my health was taken from me and I had to come face to face with my anger. Spending time with the Lord wasn’t always pleasant. My Bible remained closed. My prayers were angry, but my heart was open to his voice. I had constant insomnia, so I listened to praise music in the middle of the night for months. It gave me the words I needed to speak but wasn’t sure how.
Each time I was faced with hardship, spending time with God was more open, honest, brutal and truthful. I grew more in those hard seasons than in any of the easy times in my life.
WHAT “SPENDING TIME WITH GOD” CAN LOOK LIKE FOR YOU
Years later, I have endless ways to connect to him. I don’t confine myself to one thing. It’s a shifting of the seasons, changing-of-character-type process.
Spending time with God means you are present with God where you are. Whether that’s five in the morning, journaling to him before the family wakes, or belting out praise music in the car on your way to work. Spending time with God may be in a retreat or conference where you refresh your spirit or an afternoon walk listening to the birds in the trees, spending time admiring the Lord’s creation.
We serve a creative God, so get creative in how you spend time with him! I will say that the number one way to learn who he is and to recognize his promptings throughout the day is simple: READ YOUR BIBLE.
For those of you not feeling creative right now, that’s ok! I’ve got a list of 10 ways you can spend time with God today. Which one will you choose?
Waking early for quiet time to be still in his presence
Spend time with him anyway you can—and make it an ongoing process. Let it be something you wake up with and close the day to.
Whether you’re in front of a screen or running around town, there’s no reason you can’t spend time with him! At the lowest in my life, many of my prayers were a simple whisper of “Jesus”, as if he was sitting with me all day watching me go through everything. He didn’t need an introduction or an overview of the situation, he was there all day. He is—so talk to him as if you believe it!