When I first became a Christian, about 33 years ago, I did all the usual things. I went to church. I read the bible. I took bible study classes, read Christian literature, listened to Christian music and talked to other Christians.
I learned a lot of things during that time and one of them was that my new found salvation should be a source of joy. I was told that God puts joy into the heart of those who accept Christ as saviour but I could never find any in my heart and here it is – 33 years later and I still haven’t found “the joy of the Lord”.
I prayed about it many times over the years. I surrendered my will, tried to focus on all the blessings God has bestowed on me, opened my heart and mind to be filled with it, invited the Holy Spirit in to fill me with it, apologized to God for whatever is lacking in me that prevents me from feeling it and so on.
Nothing worked. I could feel gratitude and give thanks, I could acknowledge all the reasons I should feel joy, but the emotion itself never came to me.
It wasn’t hard to find excuses for not feeling joy but I had learned enough to know they were excuses and they didn’t wash. No matter what trials and tribulations I was enduring other Christians had endured the same, or worse, without losing their joy!
And the real issue was not that I had lost my joy, it was that I never had it in the first place, not even momentarily!
The years passed and I had good times and bad times but I never felt the joy I knew God wanted for me and I often apologized to him for that failing and asked Him to change me.
It never fails to amaze me how faithful God is! He didn’t have much to work with in me. My theme song has always been “I can’t do it” but my saving grace has always been “I’m happy to change if you can make it happen because I want to be what you created me to be”.
When I gave my life to Christ I didn’t even have faith. I didn’t believe there was any chance God, if He existed, could love me. I only became a Christian because I was just so unhappy and so unable to cope with life I figured anything was worth a try so I told God I didn’t believe but I was willing to change if He could make me change.
They say God is the potter and we are the clay. When God got me he got a big pile of rubbish held together with slivers of clay!
I had so much rubbish and God had to deal with it all because all I would do was say “I can’t do it but I’m happy to let you do it”. I had all the wounds childhood abuse and childhood sexual assault leave you with such as anxiety, mistrust, anger, self-pity, low self-esteem, pessimism, depression, suicide, promiscuity, hate and those are just what spring to mind at this moment.
God just rolled up his sleeves and waded in! From day one He has been tireless and patient in His work with me. I would describe Him more as a sculptor than a potter because He has chipped away at the stone of my being to create someone I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined becoming.
Over the years I have gone from being uncontrollably promiscuous to my 13th year of celibacy. I have gone from infantile to adult, self-hate to self-respect, unbalanced to balanced, unemployable to a career, uncontrolled temper to patient and understanding and so on.
So here I am, a vast improvement on what I was but still nowhere near what I should be and still making God do all the work.
And God is still honouring the desire of my heart which is to become what He created me to be despite my lacklustre efforts to work at changing myself!
So He uses whatever means He finds available to chip away at my flaws and the other day He used The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, and Christian TV to work on my failure to feel joy.
Cesar Millan, aka The Dog Whisperer, had a Labrador dog who was a quivering mass of fear whenever he heard certain sounds so he took him away to rehabilitate him. It took Cesar more than two months to get through to the dog and, in one scene, they were on a shooting range and Cesar Millan was talking as shots were fired in the distance. The dog was reacting to the noises by shrinking into himself and letting his head droop lower and lower until his nose was almost touching the ground.
Cesar Millan jerked the dogs head up off the ground and said to him;
“Don’t focus on the depression, you are not a human being, you are a dog!”
I laughed and wished I could say something similar to clients suffering from depression because focusing on depressive thoughts really does help people stay depressed.
“Don’t focus on the depression, you are not a human being, you are a child of God!”
Later on I was channel surfing when a sentence caught my attention. Some preacher on the Christian channel was saying something about finding the “joy of the Lord” so I listened.
The preacher said we don’t have to search outside ourselves to find joy since God automatically puts His joy in us as soon as we give our lives over to Him. What we have to do, he said, is dig down inside ourselves through the surface day-to-day stuff and unearth the joy God put there.
He went on to talk about a book some woman has written where she says we should think of joy and misery as train tracks. They both exist inside us, side by side, all the time. Sometimes we walk on the track containing joy and other times we walk on the track containing negative emotions but both are always present and we can choose to walk on either one at any time.
Suddenly I heard Cesar Millan again; “Don’t focus on the depression!”
I realised God was trying to chip away some more rubbish so, as I always do when I can feel Him working on me, I tried to work with Him.
I made the mental leap over onto the train track of joy, I focused on joy, and I began digging around inside me to see if I could find it now I knew for certain it was in there somewhere.
I uncovered something I thought might be joy when I remembered my trips home from work on the days when I am about to start a couple of days off. On those trips I find myself experiencing brief episodes of happiness that are so intense I can’t catch my breath for a few seconds and I end up singing happy little songs about having two days off for the rest of the drive home. Could that be joy?
I’ve had those moments now and then over the years but I could count the number of times they occurred per year on one hand until recently. Lately, however, these brief moments of intense happiness have been happening almost daily and several times a day sometimes.
Now that I was focusing on them I could see they were like a pool of underground oil that bubbles to the surface when conditions are right.
Conditions are excellent right now. The surface dirt of depression, anxiety, crisis and negativity has been swept away. I have had medical and psychological treatment for my depression and anxiety and it seems to have worked. God has brought me to a safe, quiet, crisis free place in my life. I have a good job and no fears about losing it, I have the company of my adult kids and they are doing OK so I don’t have to worry about them, I have a nice house to live in and enough money to cover my expenses.
All is well for me right now. I have had times when all was well before but anxiety, depression, and pessimism tended to cause me to jump in and create a crisis where none existed before so such times never lasted long.
This time I have been able to control any anxiety that has arisen and shake it off before I do anything too self-destructive but just having everything go well doesn’t make me jump for joy.
What I have done, instead, is withdraw in an effort to prevent anything from changing and pray that God will let me die now before more bad stuff happens. I am like the dog Cesar Millan was working with. My head is down, I am curled up inside myself, my nose is touching the ground and I am the very picture of misery as I wait for death.
I gave up on life when five kids attacked me in my home. It felt like the end of the world when police failed to respond to my phone call for help and I found out the neighbours had heard my screams and ignored them. Fear of being subjected to the same nightmare again forced me to sell my house and move in with my kids. When I left town I left my hopes and dreams for the future there too. I have just been waiting to die since then.
God used the trauma to persuade me to get the treatment I have needed for many years and, after enduring a lifetime of depression and anxiety, I have finally been set free from those two emotionally crippling psychological conditions!
He gave me a job with bosses who were understanding and supportive and that was a huge factor in helping me overcome the anxiety. The job pays so well I only have to work six days a fortnight to earn what I need so I have a lot of days off. I live with the two people I love most in all the world. They are my children but I like them so much as human beings they are also my best friends so life is really good right now.
God has brought me to a place where I want for nothing. Just like in the psalm, the Lord is my shepherd and He has brought me to a place where the pasture is green and the waters are quiet.
He has put me down on the train-track of joy and what is my response? I thank Him then jump over onto the other track and say “Let me die now before it all turns to shit again!”
I recall the words of Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer, again and they are sounding like a clear message from God now;
“Don’t focus on the depression!”
I’ve walked the train-track of depression all my life! I know every dip and curve, every nut and bolt of it, I’m familiar with it, comfortable on it – it’s my home track!
Every time God has tried to shift me over to the other track I have thanked Him then gone “home” to the other track.
When I stand on the train-track of depression and look into the future I see nothing but losses. Loss of health, loss of independence, loss of mobility, loss of abilities as old age claims me.
I look into the past and see nothing but trauma and misery. The physical, sexual and emotional abuses of my childhood, the rapes I endured as a teenage runaway, the sadness of giving birth to two fatherless children, the misery of a failed marriage, the trauma of a home invasion.
I look at the present and see nothing good there either with global warming, religious conflict, terrorism, mans inhumanity to man, mans inhumanity to the environment and the awful changes that have occurred in people. They have no manners, they laugh as they record a tragedy on their mobile phones, they encourage people to go ahead and kill themselves, they don’t care about anything but themselves.
“Don’t focus on the depression!”
What will I see if I stand on the other train track? I don’t know. I have never stayed on it long enough to look! Perhaps its time to find out. I will leave this article now and go and see if I can find out what I would see if I stand on the other track for a while.
Wow! It’s a very different view from the other side of the track!
I stand on the other track and look into the future and I see.. nothing! I see nothing at all but I hear God say;
“You can’t know the future. You can guess but that is all you are doing – guessing! Only I know the future and I can tell you this much – I will be with you no matter what the future brings.”
So I look into the future and I see God.
I turn my eyes to the past and straight away I see a line of faces. I see the faces of all the people who have loved me or tried to love me. I see the faces of all the people who have helped me or tried to help me. I see all the things God has done for me or tried to do for me. Most of all I see how much God has loved me.
So I look into the past and I see God.
I turn my eyes to the present and see another line of faces. All the people who love me now or are trying to love me. All the people who are helping me now or are trying to help me. All the people who are fighting to fix the things that are wrong with the world like global warming, religious conflict and mans inhumanity and selfishness and all the people who do care and do try to do right by the world and other people.
Most of all I see God working on me and in me because He loves me so much and He wants me to be happy.
It’s nice on the other track but I’m not sure how long I will be able to stay here. It’s nice but alien to me. I’m not entirely comfortable here but perhaps, if I make an effort to come here more often, I will come to feel like this is home and I will be able to stay here.
I’m not sure if I have found “the joy of the Lord” but I have uncovered joy of some kind and that’s a start.