The tempestuous waters of life often claim joy on a daily basis as we wade through the monotonous tasks of our jobs that, for many Americans, is simply a means to an end: surviving. For my generation, the American dream is an elusive dream that is no longer paid off by hard work and education. In spite of this, we continue working harder and diving deeper into debt, failing to see the fruit of our labor and investments, and with each day a little bit of joy is removed from our hearts. In dealing with our joy-less life, we drown ourselves with social media feeds, political trepidation, and anything that will distract us to give us a false sense of purpose. We get more upset over political figures acting ridiculous than the fact that we treat animals better than our own fellow human beings. We distract ourselves with foolish things so that we can forget that we are unhappy with where we are in life…and I’m the greatest culprit.
In April, I was confronted by a woman who knew me back in 2010-11. Back then I had fire and passion for the things of the Lord. I was excited to leave the shackles of a four-year college and begin pastoring. I was excited to pursue seminary in the hopes that it would drive me into a deeper spiritual calling. She knew me at a time when I was genuinely excited for what was about to come.
But what transpired in the six years from the time we last saw each other to that warm April day was a lot of defeat and disappointment. In those 6 years I would wrestle with an unprecedented want in 2011 and 2016 to kill myself. I was burned by church people to the point where I didn’t even know if I could trust my own best friend. I had my heart broken and struggled with doing life alone. Seminary tore me down but ultimately failed to build me back up. In my efforts to become a better pastor and, hopefully someday, professor, I racked up an insurmountable amount of student debt. And by the end of my academic pursuit at Hebrew University I was so burned out I had taken up drinking as a way to find some sort of “joy.”
So in April when this woman came up to me and said, “Justin…you have let the enemy steal your joy,” My silent response in the back of my head was, “You’re damn right he has!” I know he has. I feel as if for the last 6 years someone has been beating me day in and day out with a giant sledgehammer. I’ve learned these last 6 years what A Plea For Purging wrote in their song, “The Life” (I’ve posted them below).
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “Why are you writing about this now?” I’m glad you asked. Tonight, after devouring some LeLuLo’s pizza and watching an episode of Ozark, Lauren and I had a pretty intense conversation about why I’m struggling so much to find peace and joy in my life. She said, “You just come home every day and you’re just so drained” and it’s like you’ve had the joy sucked out of you (the last part is me paraphrasing). She was 100% right. I told her that my fire and passion is gone along with my joy, and I proceeded to take the lid of a candle and slammed it shut putting out the fire. However, in my passionate anger of not being passionate, I accidentally broke the glass case of the candle. No doubt, my point was made a little more than I wanted it to.
What is Joy? Webster’s says that joy is, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Many people expect joy to be this unconditional emotion you experience 24/7 in spite of every and all circumstances. Basically, some people pretend that if you aren’t joyful like a child on Christmas morning, something is wrong with you. But what is joy really? Is it a one time emotion caused by receiving or giving something? Is it a lifestyle you can choose to live in? As a Christian, I know I should have joy knowing that God is working out all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). But I wrestle with having joy when I see so much injustice, hurt, and brokenness every day.
I’ve been a Christian most of my life and a Christ-follower my entire adult life, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think I know what joy is and what it looks like right now. I want to experience that joy and peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). But how do I receive joy when some of those closest to me tell me I’m not good enough because of the choices I’ve made in my career? How do I experience that Joy when I feel like every time I give my stress to Jesus things get worse? How do I find joy amid hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt? How do I find joy in working hard day after day with no results?
I think now is as good as a time as any begin pursuing joy and what that looks like. As we come into Thanksgiving and begin the season of Advent, I’m going to be doing research on joy. I plan on asking many of you what joy is to you and how you receive it. But I don’t want the 2+2=Jesus answer. I want the real answer. How do you find joy when you’re struggling to make ends meet? How do you find joy when you work hard every day but keep getting slighted by your company? How do you find joy when your baby won’t stop crying? I want to know. And hopefully, by the time we celebrate the new year of 2018, I will be able to celebrate with joy rather than fear of another year of the same disappointment and defeat. Thanks for reading!
מרנאתא / Maranatha
A Plea For Purging
The Life & Death
Look at all of us running
Always behind, always late
We’re always playing catch up
In this human race
All of these young men dying of old age
To feel alive could cost you everything
It’s hard to hold onto your ideals
When you’ve lost your innocence
When the dreams you’ve caught
Aren’t the dreams you’ve chased
Now your hearts are bleeding
To keep this pace
The kid you were
Hates the man you became
You can’t remember what you wanted
You just can’t
Feel the same
Remember what you wanted
Remember what you chased