Cultivating Joy

I wrote the post below almost exactly one year ago. After receiving some surprising and heartbreaking news yesterday, I found myself hunting for these words again this morning. 

Though this post was written for an old blog in a different (and much darker) season of my life, the wisdom and truth that I reflected on are just as relevant today. I hope that these nuggets of hope--one from my grandma, and one from the lyrics of a favorite hymn--will be encouraging to you in the midst of your circumstances today. 

My Mamaw was a strong, vivacious woman. And she loved to dance.


In the photo above, Mamaw is dancing with Papaw at my brother’s wedding. If you’ve seen this image before, you probably know why it’s so special.

Mamaw and Papaw stood up for the song she requested (“I Hope You Dance”) and they made their way to the dance floor. Despite her health condition and the difficulty she had standing up and walking, she was not about to sit this dance out; it was the song she requested after all. And if I have my dates right, in this moment, she got one last slow dance with her husband before he passed away.

Mamaw seized every moment. She was present, and loved her family fiercely. I admired that about her.

The last time I saw her, she was in the hospital, and I went with my dad and brother to visit her. We were fairly certain that it could be our very last visit with her — Mamaw knew it too. Nobody wanted to waste that time. So we prayed over her, and she shared some of her life lessons with us as a parting gift:

“Spend time with your family and loved ones, as often as you can.”

“You can’t always find happiness, but you can always have joy.”

Now, I’m going to be completely honest. That last one has been kind of irritating for the last 6-7 months. There isn't a lot of joy in the mess we’ve been walking through, or at least it doesn't feel particularly joyful. But that is only true if I am measuring and mourning an absence of happiness. Joy, on the other hand… joy is much more resilient.

For this icky season of life, I have been absolutely obsessed with a hymn that I don’t hear very often in church. And I think that’s a real shame, because it speaks so much hope into seasons of darkness. I have played it on the guitar over and over and over again and cried out to God in some of my most desperate moments. The entirety of the lyrics are below, or for the music people, you can check out the Indelible Grace version at this link (fair warning — you will feel all the feels if you listen to it):

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like them, untrue.
O while Thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
foes may hate and friends disown me;
Show Thy face and all is bright.

Man may trouble and distress me;
’twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me;
Heaven will be bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me
while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me,
were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
come disaster, scorn and pain.
In Thy service, pain is pleasure;
With Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called thee Abba Father,
I have stayed my heart on Thee.
Storms may howl and clouds may gather;
all must work for good to me.

Soul, then know thy full salvation.
Rise o’er sin and fear and care.
Joy to find in every station,
something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
think what Father’s smiles are thine,
think that Jesus died to win thee,
child of heaven, canst thou repine?

Haste thee on from grace to glory,
armed by faith and winged by prayer,
heaven’s eternal days before thee;
God’s own hand shall guide us there!
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
soon shall pass thy pilgrim days!
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

I’ve known the joy of Christ before. With certainty, I can say that I lost sight of that joy in this season. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the “now”, the discomfort and needs and pains of today. But even on those worst, awful days, and also on the increasing number of light days, I live for the 5th and 6th stanzas, and seek to saturate my soul with these truths:

The Spirit of Christ dwells in me.
My incredible Father smiles upon me, even when I suck. Or when the world sucks. Or when absolutely everything seems to suck. 
Jesus died so that I could know His love and draw near to God.
Someday, everything else will melt away, and I will finally be in my true home.
And NOTHING that ever happens in this life is going to change any of that. At all.

That is the joy that Mamaw wanted me to know, daily. She had a deep understanding of this gospel truth, that the love of God is resilient, and that the good news of the gospel can warm my heart, even when everything else is falling apart. Maybe she even knew that I really needed to hear her say those words, right at that moment, in the middle of a storm.

“You can’t always find happiness, but you can always have joy.” Always. No matter what.