Photo by Hannah Arkie
My mom is one of my personal heroes. I’m incredibly thankful for her. She never had all the answers, and I’ve seen her stressed, overwhelmed, you name it. But she was always looking out for my sisters and me. When I was in middle school, things fell apart for our family like it does for so many others. My mom found herself raising three girls by herself and we were all trying to cope with some traumatic events. I turned to friends at school, who were maybe not the best influences. I remember sitting at lunch feeling horribly out of place around these kids. Eventually I talked the talk in order to keep up with them. It wasn’t long before I landed in the principle’s office and was suspended from school.
That’s when my mom picked up the torch and knew something had to change. After that, we faithfully searched for a church and we found one that became our family.
But let me tell you what it didn’t look like.
It didn’t look like a happily ever after. It didn’t look like our pain had been forgotten or even healed. We still struggled with anger and selfishness. And we had to give it to the Lord every day. God didn’t come into our lives and promise that we wouldn’t suffer. He promised us something better: a spot in his kingdom.
He tells us that in heaven, “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). But this is not our life now, this is “a new heaven and a new earth.” But we can’t be fooled by seeking joy in our own lives. We read many times in the bible that He is our joy, not our own lives.
People put their joy in all kinds of things: their families, jobs, houses, accomplishments, and especially relationships. These may be all good things, but none of these are untouchable.
The Lord tells us in Matthew, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
This is a verse that we are all very familiar with. But the word is living and there is a promise within this passage. No matter what may happen in our earthly lives, we have an inheritance in God’s kingdom. How unlike our culture is this way of thinking? America is built on the idea that if you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be. But that lends itself to greed and self-righteousness. The reality is that happiness is not an entitlement. Honestly, this is what the Lord meant when he said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:22). We are not owed happiness, and the things in our life that we are blessed with are not our own, but a gift from God that we have done nothing to deserve.
Take my family for example. Several weeks ago, I got to travel and see them. So much has changed for them since I lived there. My mom remarried a man who I have much respect for, and my sisters are growing up into beautiful young women with promising futures. My mom now gets to raise a family in a traditional sense. They eat dinner together every night and check everyone’s homework. These are all things I wanted for my family and myself. They were what I considered “the golden family” if you will.
But on this visit, I was confused and saddened to witness them not getting along with each other. They were fighting and saying hurtful things to each other and bitterness had built to where talking to each other seemed impossible.
I thought to myself, “They have each other and so much potential for a great family, why aren’t they happy?” But I was wrong in my thinking.
I thought happiness could stem from a traditional family with a mom and dad who invest in their children. I put that pressure on my own family. Then the Lord reminded me, joy isn’t found there. He warned me in the Word, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). This is why the most picture-perfect family could be horribly depressed.
We put this expectation on our things and on our lives and families to make us happy, but it never fulfills us. And these things are vulnerable to the world. They could easily be destroyed. The Lord is our joy; nothing can fill that space except Him.
I can hear the questions now, “Is wanting a family bad?”, “What about this career I’ve been working towards for years?” These things in themselves are definitely not bad. In fact, the Lord blesses us with these things. But He never created them to fill the God-shaped void in our hearts. He created them because He loves us and because we are to use these things to further His kingdom. They are the flock in which we shepherd and we may admire them, but we must recognize them as a gift from God and not the origination of our joy. When I understood this, my so-called “baggage” lifted from my shoulders. I no longer had this darkness looming over my past- the darkness was my own creation. Knowing that my joy isn’t something that is created over through a life of successes is a freeing realization.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let our joy be in the Lord all of our days.
By: Natalie Johnson