by Joanie Butman
Someone commented to me this week, “I’m sure you’re making it seem easier than it sounds.” Not really. I’m just choosing to focus on the positive aspects of this experience rather than the pain. Does that negate the fact that this surgery was probably the biggest physical challenge I’ve ever experienced (other than the Brazilian wax my girlfriend persuaded me to try)? No. But that’s the paradox of life, isn’t it? The parallel paths of joy and suffering. Neither exists in isolation but are irrevocably intertwined. The quality of your life is dictated by the one on which you choose to focus. Joy is not determined by your circumstances but your perspective.
The biggest obstacle many people face with this subject is that they confuse joy with happiness, and they couldn't be more different. Happiness is circumstantial. Joy is a lightness of being; an enduring, underlying peace and contentment regardless of the circumstances. I don’t mean this in a naïve Pollyanna sort of way. The suffering in this world is immense and all too real. However, if that becomes your focus, it produces fear, worry, doubt, pessimism, bitterness, discouragement and despair – not to mention a slew of physical ailments like ulcers. Just following the presidential race is enough to generate all of the above. I don’t recommend living with blinders on either, because being fully aware of the depth of suffering surrounding us heightens the appreciation of God’s blessings that much more.
Kay Warren describes joy as, “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” Her husband, Rick, adds, “We tend to think that life comes in hills and valleys. In reality, it’s much more like train tracks. Every day of your life, wonderful, good things happen that bring pleasure and contentment and beauty to you. At the exact same time, painful things happen to you or those you love that disappoint you, hurt you, and fill you with sorrow. These two tracks — both joy and sorrow — run parallel to each other every single moment of your life. They’re inseparable.”
That’s not to say suffering is without purpose or meaning. Rick also points out, “Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.”
I could regale you with gross medical stories of all the gory details you don’t want to know, but how would that uplift or encourage anyone – except maybe the folks by the pool in Florida who thrive on discussing medical issues. A friend jokingly wrote, “Thank heavens your sense of humor and love of God are nowhere near your spleen!” Amen sista! They may not be organs, but they are my lifeblood. The way I view these surgeries is the more undesirable ‘stuff’ they remove, the more room there is for God’s love, presence and even His sense of humor to expand – it’s a good trade.
If you’re looking for a Lenten practice, perhaps you could choose to focus each day on a blessing you received amidst the distractions of life, or maybe choose to focus on a different aspect of God each day. It could be something as simple as feeling the sun on your face or a beautiful sunset, a note from a friend, or a hug from a child. As you focus on these things, you’ll feel your attitude slowly shifting from one of doom and gloom that the world peddles, to one of praise and thanksgiving, filled with a renewed sense of joy, peace and hope.
I will close with my own definition of joy as the comfort and relief of climbing into God’s everlasting arms and allowing Him to walk me through life and carry me through my suffering. Not around it, over it, or under it. Do you know the children’s book, We're Going on a Bear Hunt? Every time they reach an obstacle they chant, “Uh, oh. Can’t go around it. Can’t go over it, can’t go under it. Gotta go THROUGH it.” And they do, TOGETHER. That, my friends, is my life with Christ and my path of true joy.
Suffering is a fact of life. It’s unavoidable. About that we have no choice. Regardless, what we do with our pain and how we choose to go through it will be the story we tell, and the legacy we leave behind. Choose wisely.