2017 was not a happy year. There were moments of happiness but also moments of great sorrow. People I love suffered greatly in 2017 with loss, fear, depression, anxiety, and immense stress. My brother spent far more of the year in the hospital, with dire medical issues, than out. After experiencing some of my most intense and powerful moments with God, I slipped into the deepest depression I have ever been through. No, it was not a happy year.
However, and this is critical, it was a joy filled year. This year, more than any other, I have learned the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a fleeting feeling that is only present when circumstances and feelings align in just the right way. Happiness is dependent on how much good surrounds us. It requires us to feel pleased with those circumstances. Joy is not just a feeling, it is a combination of a gift given by God, a decision to stay filled with hope, and knowing the truth that this is not the end of the story. It is knowing that the end of the story, for those who believe, is continually being present with a God who loves us. It is knowing that our God is always at work for our good – even when it feels hard. It is trusting that ultimately there will be no more tears and no more pain. (Romans 8:28, Revelation 21:4)
In this life we cannot always control our circumstances and even those we do control don’t always work out like we want them to. Feelings are often liars. When we are tired, or hungry, or suffering, every feeling seems to tell us there is no hope and we are doomed. The enemy of our souls (James 5:8) will tell us that we aren’t good enough, aren’t loved, or anything else that will bring us down. We simply cannot trust circumstances or feelings to keep us feeling happy.
Who we can trust is our God. (John 14:1 NLT) That doesn’t mean we always understand what is happening to us or those we care about. It means we believe that He who controls it is always going to be working for our good. It means that we know He knows better than we do. (Isaiah 55:8-9) It means we can say, “It is well with my soul”, when all around us is not well, because we trust that the lover of our souls will make all things right.
Listen, here is the truth, I struggled this past year to understand a myriad of circumstances. I struggled to understand why some people are allowed to treat others so poorly. I struggled to understand why God chose not to change many different painful circumstances. I still don’t claim to know all the answers and I do not feel “happy” about certain things. While I struggled, I didn’t always go straight to, “God has this.” Instead, I wrestled with Him. I told Him about that which I did not understand. I told Him that I was angry, and hurt, and sad. He listened. He walked with me through each question, each accusation. He gently showed me that He was still there, He was still good, (Psalm 34:8) and He still had a plan. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
This life is hard. That is not going to change. The good news is that our God doesn’t change either. (Hebrews 13:8) The God who rescued His people from Egypt will still rescue His people. The God who showed His love by sending His son still gives us proof of His love. The God who promises us that Heaven is coming has never failed to keep a promise. (Deut.7:9, Joshua 21:45)
As we enter 2018, I wish you a joy filled New Year. I hope and pray that you will see His love in tangible and intangible ways. I hope and pray that you will place your hope and trust in God, even when you can’t see a way out of your pain. I hope and pray that each moment that is filled with joy, hope, and love you will capture, thank God for it, and treasure it in your heart.