I have not always been a joyful person. In fact, I’d say my tendency is to be negative and to grumble and complain. I do not like this about myself. I tried to “fake it to make it,” but it just wasn’t happening. I needed an overhaul. In order to effect true change, I needed to get to the bottom of WHY I struggled. One day, I came across a quote that was like the pebble tossed in the water. The effects rippled out and changed me in ever increasing ways. I was reading something, just minding my own business when the words jumped off the page and assaulted me. The words are few and simple:
COMPARISON is the ROBBER of JOY.
I pondered this for awhile, thinking of all the times I had compared myself to others. I found the quote to ring true. Comparing myself to others left me discouraged and unhappy. There is always someone who appears to have nicer circumstances, things, looks, etc. I began to work on the discipline of not comparing myself to others. This was the first ripple.
As time went on, I found that refraining from comparing myself to others was not enough. I realized that were plenty of times when I was less than joyful, but was not comparing myself to others. Pondering further, I discovered I was comparing myself to some “idealized” standard. Still comparison, though. And it was robbing me of joy. So, the next concentric ripple was comparing myself, not to others, but to the unattainable standards of perfection I had set up for myself.
But then another layer of “joy deficiency” came to the surface: I was grumpy about hard things in my life. My son’s congenital heart defect, not being able to sleep, dealing with a houseful of sick kids, loss of a job etc. This list could go on and on. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone — real or imagined; I just didn’t like my circumstances. I again pondered what I was missing. What was the root issue here? Where was the comparison? What was robbing my joy in these situations? I did not immediately arrive at a conclusion.
I thought of some friends who seemed particularly joyful in spite of difficult circumstances. One friend was watching her child die from a rare genetic disease — and it was not the first child she had lost. Another had a hard marriage. Another had financial troubles. Another was dying of cancer. But they were still joyful. Not only were they not grumbling about their circumstances, which were very plainly horrible situations; they were giving praise to God, and were still interested in — and caring for — others. What was the key?
I read of people like Corrie ten Boom, who lost her father and sister after they were all sent to concentration camps by the Nazis for working to save Jews; and Elizabeth Elliot, whose husband was murdered by the very people he was trying to help. How were they able to go forward after such heart-rending tragedies? Not just to exist, coping with their new reality, but to glorify God and minister to the very ones who had wronged them? To give blessing to many through the telling of their stories? How did they do it???
The understanding began to take shape in my mind: it was my comparison of my reality to my EXPECTATIONS that was robbing me of my joy. What I had, vs. what I wanted. What I got vs. what I thought I deserved. The ripple effect continued. These friends and mentors had learned the secret of contentment in all things that is described so well in Philippians 4:4-13:
4Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. 10But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
I Timothy 6:8, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”
Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
I Peter 4:13, “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
I began to work again on correcting my thought patterns. Choosing gratefulness even when things weren’t going the way I wanted. Avoiding the “If only” and “I wish” sorts of discontented thoughts. It was 3 steps forward, 2 steps back for a long while as I worked hard to build new habits. It didn’t mean I was now loving the hard things, just choosing to find the bright spot in the midst of the suffering or difficulty. And joy arrived. Slowly at first, bit by bit with each success at choosing thankfulness, the joy grew. I realize I am not entitled to the blessings I receive. They are not the result of any goodness I inherently possess.
I wondered if I could I still have joy if all my blessings were stripped away? If I lost all my belongings? If I lost my husband? My children? My parents? Ouch! That was hard to consider. Honesty, I can’t say for sure how I would respond since I have never been there. But I know that I need to be satisfied with Jesus alone. He must be enough. Sufficient. I need to come to the place where Jesus is all I need.
A couple of thought trails that have helped me to reorient my thinking when it gets off track:
When something is going bad, think of what I could consider the WORST possible outcome. Then consider what would be the benefits if the worst became reality?
When faced with loss or disappointment, choose to thank God for what he did give, not to focus on what I am losing. Speaking the words out loud is especially beneficial to me. For example, my dad is dying of a disease called Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). He is not old. Since his mom (my grandma) was over 90 when she passed away a few years ago, I EXPECTED that I would have my dad around for a long time. It’s not looking that way. I sometimes feel MAD and start to grumble about this horrible outcome. It helps me to get back on track if I force myself to be THANKFUL for the 40-plus years I have had my dad. Thankful for the memories. Thankful for his encouragement, his wisdom. his humor, his talents, his music. And acknowledge to myself that while I don’t understand God’s ways, I know His ways are for good (see Romans 8:28). And I come, once again, to a place of rest, peace, contentment and joy.
This ongoing, day-to-day battle in the mind, heart, soul and life is one that is worth fighting — for the JOY that comes with the win.