When you can’t find JOY

For God is with us, even in times of brokenness, of solitude, of sadness. In fact, He is closer than ever.

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Since my last post about sadness, I felt a prod from the heart to re-watch Inside Out. For me, Inside Out is not just another good-to-see animated movie – it speaks to the heart and establishes a fact that our emotions, be it joy, anger, disgust, fear and sadness are part of who we really are. We are wired by God with different personalities, and that includes our sometimes complex emotions.

The portion where my tears welled up while watching the movie is the moment when Joy finally recognizes that Sadness is also a part of Riley (the character depicting all of us) – that Riley cannot always deny the surging pain and frustration inside her. Life is not everyday bliss. We have to embrace the fact that inside all of us resides our version of sadness, and fear, disgust and anger. OK, I also cried too when Bingbong, Riley’s imaginary friend, disappeared like dust. It gave me the same chills like how half of the Avengers turned into dust in that great “Thanos Snap”

When you can't find Joy

While I am preparing for a message outline for church, I had a chance to read the book of Job in one sweep. Yes, all 42 chapters in one sitting. I want to see the big picture how a righteous man, who fears and Lord and is full of integrity – descriptions coming directly from God himself (verses Job 1:8, 2:3), fared when all else were taken before him. I want to see how he managed his emotions amidst his depressing situation. Here are the things that I discovered when you cannot seem to find JOY.

  1. Accept the fact that even in becoming a Christian, you will still face sufferings.

This is a hard truth to digest. Many are convinced with the idea that one you accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, life’s challenges will soon be gone. This is a shallow foundation to stand upon, and is obviously not true. If Jesus, the author of salvation, was not spared from sufferings, what makes us think we will be exempted? Isn’t the Bible clear in saying that “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). We are not exempted. Job was a righteous person, but He did suffer. No one is like Job. He was God’s “trophy” back then, but still, he mourned, and wept and lost a lot of things. So we are not exempt from life’s bitter servings. By accepting this fact, you will have a better understanding of life.

  1. People will mistreat, accuse or misunderstand you. Yes, even your closest friends.

Job, coated with boils, blisters and wounds, was accompanied by his closest friends. But their presence didn’t even soothe the pain he felt, but instead added insult to the wounds that he has, when he was accused of sins he didn’t even commit. God has punished him for an unconfessed sin, they say. Surely God has a reason for all his misfortunes, as God’s justice is always in effect. But Job clung to his innocence, and claimed he didn’t do anything wrong deserving of his sufferings. They had a heated argument – which did not help the person in pain. This is so disheartening, yet this is a fact. There will be people who will not empathize with you. There will be people who will not understand you. But you have the choice not to wear the sandals they are forcing you to wear. As long as you know you are walking within the circle of God’s will, though people do not understand what you’re going through, just tell yourself, “bakit ako matatakot?”

  1. Cling onto hope – it will keep you strong.

Job was very resilient. But it doesn’t mean he is beyond breaking. And one good observation in his narrative is the hope he has in his Savior. In Job 19:25-27 it says:

25 I know that my redeemer lives,

    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,

    yet in my flesh I will see God;

27 I myself will see him

    with my own eyes—I, and not another.

    How my heart yearns within me!

It is no different with the Apostle Paul’s “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain”. This is more than positive thinking. Realize that there is no better time and place to exercise your faith than the time when all hope seems lost and all help seems gone. Job was looking forward to the day of his redemption – which may come physically to relieve him of his ordeal, or soon when he joins his Creator in heaven, which for him is a better deal! If you find that all joy is gone within you, cling onto hope – it will help you through. It will strengthen you.

  1. Cry onto God. He is not intimidated with that.

I had a personal encounter with extreme sadness. Maybe some other time I’ll share my story. But to give a short piece of account, I suffered from depressing thoughts never I have expected to have. I confided to a mature friend and I was advised to jot down my thoughts – all of it, no holds barred. Being a writer, I wrote my thoughts in an orderly, somehow artistic and carefully-worded manner. But I was rebuked. I am not writing to impress but to express. That time, I am writing not for people, but for myself. So there has to be no more inhibitions, no more censorship, no need to be careful.

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Somewhere within the premises of Touch of Glory Prayer Mountain

After jotting down all my thoughts, I realized, with tears flowing down my cheeks, that I was too tired and exhausted then. I had too many angst against people, against my situation, against my past decisions. It all welled up until it became too heavy to bear. I was caught off-guard by the excesses of life that I allowed my heart to carry. That exercise helped me unload some weight. I encourage you to do that as well.

But that was not all. I went to a solitary place to literally cry out everything. I went to Touch of Glory Prayer Mountain and there I confessed, questioned, and groaned unto God. It was a great experience, much like a spiritual detoxification.

Job did exactly just that. He cried unto God. He was so down and depressed that he already want to die. He was brutally honest –living with such losses, with boils and wounds and blisters and sores all over your body, being scorned by people around him, and being falsely accused by his “close friends” – for him, death would be a great bargain!

After jotting down all my thoughts, I realized, with tears flowing down my cheeks, that I was too tired and exhausted then. I had too many angst against people, against my situation, against my past decisions. It all welled up until it became too heavy to bear.

God is never overwhelmed by the weight of our prayers. He is not overwhelmed by our emotions. We can always be honest with Him. In fact, we can never hide anything from Him! He knows our thoughts, He knows our ways, He knows the deepest parts of our heart. He formed us and we are His. So cry unto Him. People might not understand what you are going through but trust me, He understands.

  1. Remember: it’s OK to not be OK

If you are feeling down and low, it’s OK. It doesn’t make you less of a human when you get sad at times. When you feel frustrated over something, don’t brush your tears away immediately, don’t hide your pain. It is not a sign of weakness when you cry for something that makes you sad. What’s weak is when you deny it and shrug it off as if it’s nothing when it is really something. When joy is not around, embrace sadness for a time, and when you have already cried your heart out, get up and walk again. Pursue joy once more. Life is not a competition who is the emotionally strongest – for we can all be emotionally secure in the Lord. Life is best lived in a community, where we can all share our joys and sadness and grow in the likeness of our God.

At the end of their heated discourse, Job prayed for his friends, they were forgiven. Whatever Job lost was restored, in double portions. This is because he was standing on a solid foundation. He went through a very challenging ordeal. He was tested by fire, but he came our refined. All because he acknowledged that he was not OK and God was fine with it. God is looking for broken people. He is not impressed by strength. So if you are not OK, let God deal with you. He will see you through.


Just prior to writing this blog, I revisited the story of Elijah (1 Kings 18-19). He was a very powerful and anointed prophet. He won the battle at Mount Carmel where he defeated numerous ministers of the false god Baal. He was a very accomplished person. But when his life was threatened, all signs of strength quickly fade. The man who prayed for fire and rain now prays for his life. Obviously he was shocked, devastated, depressed and afraid. But God assured him – he was not alone.

For God is with us, even in times of brokenness, of solitude, of sadness. In fact, He is closer than ever.

Often we long for answers in the form of a storm, an earthquake, or a fire. We long to see God working in mighty ways that will take our breath away. While it is true that God is a mighty God and He can always reveal Himself in mighty ways, like in the case of Elijah, He may also reveal Himself in subtle ways like a whisper. Yes, a sweet, soft, almost unnoticeable whisper. Let us not despair the silent moments of our lives. Let us not despair the times when our sadness seem to take the best of us. Let us not despair our moments of solitude, moments when joy seem to be absent. For God is with us, even in times of brokenness, of solitude, of sadness. In fact, He is closer than ever.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

 

Sadness and Sepia Moments

When you are at your lowest, you are most vulnerable. You are easily convinced by the voice that says you are worthless, good for nothing.

Have you ever experienced a time when everything around you seems dull and lifeless, the gloom so real and overwhelming that you can feel how it embraces you and convinces you that he is your friend willing to follow you wherever you go? You look around and see everyone around you wearing a smile, but unfortunately for you, you can’t seem to find any reason to wear one. You did not intend to succumb to the embrace of gloominess but you can’t shrug it off as well. You see yourself a victim.

Sadness and Sepia Moments (1)

Happiness is relative. Some people find happiness in simple pleasures such as having a new toy, gaining social media attention, finishing another book or the just the scent of fresh flowers. Some are hard to please – they are constantly chasing for material things, prestige, or new relationships. While the things that make us happy vary, we can all agree that the satisfaction brought about by these things is fleeting. Happiness doesn’t last. One day you’re OK and the next day, you begin to sulk.

I have my share of my lowest days. I call these days sepia moments, just like the feeling imbibed by just looking at old pictures. When you are at your lowest, you are most vulnerable. You are easily convinced by the voice that says you are worthless, good for nothing. Your worries seem insurmountable and you feel defeated. Even simple problems turn gargantuan.

On one of my shower ruminations, I have thought of three reasons for occasional sadness that I feel. Again, these are personal insights but I think these may also apply to anyone.

  1. Whenever I obsess myself with the accomplishments of people on social media.

Yes, social media envy sometimes gets the best of me. It starts with a simple peek at one’s post, liking one’s vacation or one’s recent purchase. Then another post pops up with news of job promotion or an engagement. Posts and tweets pile up and soon I find myself envious with my “friends;” highlight reel. I emphasized the word friends because most of these people I get envious of are not really my friends in real life! But why do I feel so affected with whatever happens to them when they don’t even care about what happens with my life? I guess this is the irony of social media friendships, as Dave Ramsey notes: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” And it is a sad reality to accept.

But why do I feel so affected with whatever happens to them when they don’t even care about what happens with my life? I guess this is the irony of social media friendships

  1. Whenever I measure my worth based on what people say, think about me.

I am a people-pleaser, and I am very much aware of that. I can’t sleep well if I know I have offended or have not responded to someone who asks for favor, especially if within my capacity to help. I tend to think over and over of things I might have done wrong, or words I shouldn’t have said. This is emotional torture, I think. But the pain doubles when someone has told me something I least expect to hear. I end up feeling unloved and unimportant. I sulk over things that I know are not true. I measure my worth based on what they think or say about me, which are not necessarily true. During my high school years I believed I am up to no good just because a classmate had told me so. I carried the weight for a couple of years until it shaped my motivations and view of self. It’s all by God’s grace I was delivered from that unnecessary weight.

  1. Whenever there are unconfessed sin that I try to rationalize or hide.

The weight of sin carried from day to day is enough reason for me to get anxious and depressed. I have heard a teaching that if there are sins that you keep to yourself, sins you choose not to expose in the open, chances are, you’re gonna repeat the same sin over and over. Sin takes us on hold us until we share it with a trusted person who will pray for us and with us and challenge us to overcome it. How often I find myself bugged down by my struggles just because I am too proud to share my weakness with my friends. But as soon as I share my issues with my trusted friends, not only do I find myself co-laborers with the weight I’m bearing, I also find people who makes me realize that I am not supposed to walk this life alone.

  1. When I choose not to spend significant time with God

I am often victimized by this seemingly harmless neglect. I used to tell myself: “just this one time”. One skip, followed by another, and soon I find myself losing touch with the Source. If you identify yourself as a Jesus-follower, you know what I am saying. Spending time with God is our lifeline for joy and spiritual sustenance. Sever your connections with God’s word and your joy will soon fade. I know because I have been in that situation – a couple of times. One painful rebuke I have read from Jim Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire:

“If we don’t want to experience God’s closeness here on earth, why would we want to go to heaven anyway? He is the center of everything there. If we don’t enjoy being in his presence here and now, then heaven would not be heaven for us. Why would he send anyone there who doesn’t long for Him passionately here on earth?”

The key here is not just to read the Bible and ticking a checklist on your reading plan. Neither it is about uttering a hurried prayer then you’re done. The point is cultivating a relationship with your Maker through meaningful spiritual conversations and yielding to His will. No wonder because of my continued “just this one time” moments, I often end up as a wilted plant.

These things may also be true to you. Perhaps the things I have mentioned are also the reasons why you feel sad and gloomy and lifeless at times. Or you could add more to the list. But I don’t want to end up with just diagnosing the causes of my gloominess. I don’t want to be overcome by sadness that all I can see is the rain and not the rainbow after the rain.

I have two important disclaimers here:

First, the sadness or gloominess I am speaking of doesn’t necessarily mean clinical anxiety or depression. I may have described similarities but it is not my intention (yet) to cross over the topic of depression. Perhaps in the near future, when I have gathered much information about the subject matter.

Sadness
© walmart.com

Second, the sadness I am speaking of is viewed in the lens of spiritual context. And the causes I have cited are detrimental to one’s spiritual health. However, being the reflective type of person, I recognize that there is a kind of sadness that makes us appreciate life even more. One that is best portrayed in the animated film Inside Out. There is a form of sadness that makes us more human, gives us a moment to slow down a notch, and think about our life well. Let me quote Sadness, “Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.”

If not for God’s grace, perhaps gloom has devoured me completely. But thankfully, in the deepest, darkest and messiest point of my life, rescue is still available and joy awaits. Lasting JOY – not just mere happiness, which is temporal and fleeting. Joy that freely given to those whose lives are surrendered to Jesus.