Searching for a Thing Called Joy

This Spring we took our kids home to North Carolina to see family and friends while they were on break from school. We passed into the Smoky mountains of Tennessee/NC Border just as dawn began to break through the dark. Even now as I write it, I’m transported back to that moment and to the shock of tears on my cheeks as I drove. “What in the world,” I thought, “Why I am crying at rocks and trees? Midlife is taking a toll!” We stopped at the Welcome Center so the kids could use the bathroom. Ok, honestly so I could use the bathroom because I have a bladder the size of a gnat. As we stood there, surrounded by the hills of home, I felt a peace I had not experienced in quite some time.

Home.  

And yet as awesome as that feeling was the dark night I wrote about last fall endures. There is an old scripture verse of which has inspired many a song which declares “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” I’ve realized it’s been a long while since I’ve felt that joy. Even though, since I wrote that post in September, I have been able to process and let go of some pretty deep anger and bitterness from my past, the shadow over me has endured. I thought the anger at one person was the reason for my depression, and certainly there was a good portion which was, but when the darkness did not lift I realized my anger was pointed quite higher than I thought.

I realized I was angry at God.

Five years ago we began a journey which would have us leave NC full of confidence that God was calling us to “take our family and leave.” (If you’re interested in reading more of that, check out my wife’s guest posts from then…she wrote beautifully of all we believed God was doing). It was exciting and hard and terrifying and healing-all at the same time. In the midst of challenges and struggles, fears and doubts, there was a surety we were doing what God had asked us to do. And I must say, I remember the joy of worshipping and praying and reading Scripture in that season; it was truly sweet. Yet there was a point, for me at least, where the joy of it all disappeared. There was a point at which all the things that hadn’t gone the way I’d intended piled up and the resulting avalanche nearly bowled me over.

I remember it vividly: it was the day I left my daughter in a hospital for what would end up being a far longer stay than any of us anticipated. I had spent the night with her, settling into this new reality, and as I attempted to read my bible the next morning, it just felt foolish…empty…dry. In that moment I felt like Ezekiel watching the glory of the Lord depart the Temple. It was as if he went out the window of that hospital room, and I haven’t seen him since.

Oh, my mustard seed of faith has endured, thanks in no small part to the love of my amazing wife and kids, and to a community that has walked with us and, quite often carried us through the valley. As Andrew Peterson sings, “I’ve seen too much, too much to deny,” and I sing along…albeit through barred teeth at times.

And yet the long dark has continued.

Maybe this is foreign to you…but maybe not. Maybe you struggle to hold on to your scrap of faith in the midst of trials. And it won’t do to compare your trials with mine or vice-versa. Whatever we’ve been given to walk through in this life, who are we to say how another’s trial should or shouldn’t affect them? Your trial is yours.

Maybe you’ve heard that if you had “real faith” you’d just praise God through it! You’d always be smiling, you’d be “a victor.” Go read the Psalms and tell me if you think David and the other psalmists felt that way. Go read Psalm 143 and tell me that a man who could write, “The enemy has pursued my soul, he has crushed my life to the ground” felt like he was always a victor. A man after God’s own heart wrote “my soul thirsts for you in a parched land.” No, I think David was a man clinging to a scrap of faith in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances, crying out to the only one he knew who could deliver.

I’ve tried bible reading plans. I’ve cried out in prayer. I’ve tried positive thinking, new habits, exercise. The dark endures. With encouragement from others I’ve continued to serve, to lead worship even, and to do these things, as a dear friend once told me, “from a place of need and weakness” not a souped-up, put-on false confidence.

As I stood at that rest stop last March, surrounded by the mist and the hills, I was so grateful.  That moment was one of those surprisingly impactful ones which give us wind in our sails. To be able to stand there and take it all in, to breathe the air, to see the trees and the rocks and the beautify of it all…it was just a gift. Even though I couldn’t stay, I knew those mountains would be there.  Those mighty hills and valleys would continue to endure even as I drove back across the country to the Great Plains. As I type this I can’t see them from my office in the plains of Oklahoma, but I know they’re there, a thousand miles to the east, silent and waiting.  

And I believe God is the same. I’m told He is nearer than the air I breathe. He is there, or here, however you want to put it, and I believe this. I believe Jesus knows exactly what I’m feeling and I believe, sometimes through tears, He is praying even now for me, and that he is with me in this dark. And I know none of these truths are dependent on my feelings but, good grief, I’d give anything to know the nearness and joy deep in my soul right now.

I have hope, one day, I will. Until then, as the late Rich Mullins sang, I’ll continue on as a man longing for his home.

“If I stand then I’ll stand on the promise

That You’ll pull me through

And if I can’t then I’ll stand on the grace

That first brought me to You

If I sing let me sing for the joy

That has borne in me these songs

And if I weep let it be as a man

Who is longing for his home”

Rich Mullins, If I Stand

4 thoughts on “Searching for a Thing Called Joy

  1. Lesa

    My heart just breaks for you. Yes, I have been there and believe with you that the Lord is aware and of all you’re going through. But sometimes you just need to feel joy to feel alive again! Have y’all thought of coming back to the state you so love? Is that even a possibility? Maybe being where your earthly home feels right at least would do you good. There are so many here who love you and would love to have you back here! We will continue to pray for you that the Lord will give you peace and JOY.

    Liked by 1 person

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