Something I usually do around this time of year is begin asking God for a word to focus on for the coming year. I started this around five years ago, and it is something the Lord has used greatly in my life since then. I can look back and see how the words “steadfast” and “ask” (among others) made a huge difference in my life and in my relationship with Christ. This time last year, I felt like the word God gave me for 2018 was “joy.” I began the year expectant that all kinds of joyful things were going to happen.It did occur to me that usually the word “joy” is used alongside the word “sorrow,” but I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.
In February, my husband and I bought our first home together—definitely a joyful occasion! Two weeks later, our brand new house flooded. The hardwood floors were ruined, the carpet was soggy, and the fans brought in by the restoration company were so loud I thought I might lose my mind. Little did I know, that was the beginning of a year of hard things: unexpected medical expenses, health issues, an unwelcome diagnosis of a beloved family member, and mounting work stress, to name a few.
To be honest, I can’t remember a more joyless year. It has felt so unfair, and besides that, just so confusing to know that after all that has happened, “joy” is the word I’m supposed to come back to. In a conversation with a dear friend, I told her I feel like the laughingstock of some cosmic joke. How ironic that in my year of joy I would search everywhere for it and come up with nothing but tears and heartache.
After a particularly hard couple of weeks, I recently began reading through James in my morning Bible study. He says in chapter one, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (v. 2-4, NIV).
Something shifted in my understanding when I read this, and I realized: I had been looking for joy amongst all my surrounding sorrows, when my sorrows ARE the joy I’m looking for. This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned, and I’m not sure I’m finished learning it yet. It doesn’t make much sense. But, if I’ve learned anything in my years of walking with Jesus, it’s that He isn’t limited to working within the confines of what makes sense.He can take trials and use them to mature my faith. He can take sorrow and turn it into joy.
In this season of sorrow, God has given me another word to hold onto: hope. I love Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I don’t know how to feel joyful about the trials of the past year, but I have hope that the Spirit of God in me can accomplish that. I do know that, more than anything, I want to persevere in a life of faith in Christ until the very end of my life, because I believe Jesus is worth it. So, even if I don’t feeljoyful, I have hope that joy will come, and for now that’s enough.
Corley Shumaker serves as Assistant Campus Minister at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Arkansas State University. She loves Red Wolves football, nail polish, and flowers. You can find her on Twitter at @corleycline.