By Bex Elder
When I was little I always thought joy was an odd fruit of the spirit. I also thought that I could check it off the list. I didn’t need to practice it. Patience and self control could be tricky but joy was easy. It was just being happy. Right?
Wrong. I want to suggest to you the idea that joy and happiness are synonyms is a lie. To me, happiness is a temporary emotion but joy is an active choice and mindset. Let me explain how I’ve come to this conclusion…
Ever since I was little I was a super happy child – one with an infectious laugh, sunny disposition and content with the simplest of things. It was a huge part of my character. However, I had a complete personality shift at age 20 when I became very depressed and anxious. This flipped my life upside down. I didn’t enjoy anything I used to. I didn’t sleep properly. I cut myself off from my friends. I struggled to understand the most basic things (including the plot of Neighbours!). I was really a shell of my former self and got no pleasure from life.
I had been robbed of any sense of happiness but God taught me to practice joy and showed me the importance of it. My mum used to make me do something I hated. In the depths of my depression, she made me write down 3 things I was grateful for everyday. My goodness. That was a challenge. Sometimes they were the most simple things: someone making me food, having a roof over my head, having a nap. These may not sound groundbreaking but through this painful and excruciating exercise I learnt to appreciate what I had, regardless of how bad life was. From this place of gratitude, a deep joy developed because my eyes had been lifted. I was no longer looking down at my own life, but looking up at the king of kings who knows me intimately and wants a relationship with me. As much as I hated it at the time, I’m so grateful that there was someone around me to shift my gaze, speak truth and shine light into my darkness.
What a thrill! Now this didn’t cure my depression over night, I still take antidepressants to this day, but it did act as a turning point and allow me to begin to get my life back. I had a new perspective which allowed me to live beyond my human capabilities. One of the things that makes me laugh most is how often my non-Christian friends will say, “Bex, you can’t have been depressed, you’re the happiest person I know.” This was never truer than this October when in the space of a few weeks my granny died and my dad got diagnosed with cancer. Arguably not a great month. My friends turned to me and said “how are you still smiling? How have you not fallen apart?” For me the answer was easy. It wasn’t me. It was because I had a relationship with Jesus. He was sustaining me. He was giving me a peace which passes human understanding and a joy which doesn’t make sense given the circumstances.
That’s not to say it’s been a walk in the park and every day has been easy. Every day we have a choice to make. We can choose joy, to lift our eyes and look to a God who is higher than our circumstances. That doesn’t mean there isn’t tears (ask anyone, I’m a crier), or questions or worries but it does mean that we don’t have to do this alone. In John 16:22 it says that “no one can take away our joy” and Nehemiah 8:10 says that “the joy of the Lord is our strength”. In our darkest moments we can receive joy and peace in a supernatural way which goes beyond any earthly understanding. By choosing joy, it not only changes our perspective, but allows us to bring life to areas of people’s lives which feel dead. We get to show people that regardless of what situation we find ourselves in, we can point to a hope which is bigger than us, bigger than our circumstances, unchanging and faithful.
So if there’s one thing you take from this, I encourage you to choose joy and see how God meets you in that choice.
Bex joined City Church when she was 9 months old and has been there ever since (bar a few years here and there). She works a translator and tutors part time. Bex is part of the GP massive and can often be found hiding at the back doing sound or pretending to be young and hanging out with the Encounter guys. Her all time best party trick is her sloth impression.