Finding Happiness in Difficult Times

We’re a week or so into February, so today’s article has a bit of romance for Valentine’s Day and much application (finding happiness in life) for the other days of the year. I came across this true account from Reader’s Digest:

My cell phone quit as I tried to let my wife know that I was caught in freeway gridlock and would be late for our anniversary dinner. I wrote a message on my laptop asking other motorists to call her, printed it on a portable inkjet and taped it to my rear windshield.

When I finally arrived home, my wife gave me the longest kiss ever. “I really think you love me,” she said. “At least 70 people called and told me so.”

In Genesis 29, Jacob initiates what will be one of the great romances of all time; no cell phone message could compare to it. Although this romance had a happy ending (he did marry his beloved Rachel), Jacob’s life was complex, stressful, and messy. Despite great hardships, his life was rich and filled with happiness. How can this paradox be? The answer is no surprise: God.

Jacob had been scared, lonely, probably overcome with guilt, and walking into the unknown. He had stolen both the family birthright and Isaac’s blessing from his brother Esau; Esau was so angry with Jacob for his low-down scheming that he planned to kill him. To preserve his life, Jacob hurriedly exited Canaan and headed toward relatives in Haran (what we now call Iraq).

All alone and away from home, Jacob faced an uncertain-looking future. But then he experienced God at Bethel, and his mentality was transformed. Life might be unstable, but God was faithfully at his side—no matter what.

The lesson applies to us: If we are in the lowlands—but learn to be emboldened by experiencing God—we can find courage to pursue better times as we hold God’s hand.

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Embrace Joy, Embrace Suffering

Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Jan/Feb 2012. All rights reserved.

Joy Brace earned her name early in life, having inherited her mother’s sparkling eyes and easy laugh, and having somehow channeled a good deal of her father’s personality, especially his serenity during the difficult times of life. Her birth certificate reads, “Florilla Joyce Crawford,” but she was Joy from the beginning.

Joy was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August, allowing her four months with her family and friends before her death on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. More than a thousand people attended her funeral service, held at Faith Baptist Bible College, Ankeny, Iowa. Many testified how she spent the last months of her life spreading joy.

Students at Grandview Park Baptist School—where Joy began teaching after her marriage—had organized a fund-raising event on Thanksgiving weekend, “Embrace Joy,” featuring a preseason basketball game against Iowa Christian Academy. Joy continued to work at the school as a substitute teacher until the time of her death. Proceeds from the event were given to the Brace family. Both sides of the family were invited to a thanksgiving dinner at the church. Then at halftime, Joy sat in a chair on the edge of the basketball court, testifying of God’s goodness in her life. That weekend she had already experienced the first of several seizures, but she would not pass up a final opportunity to testify of God’s goodness in her own life.

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He Is God and We Are Not

Casting Crowns popularized a song titled, “In Me.” Some of the lyrics follow:

How refreshing to know You don’t need me.
How amazing to find that You want me.
So I’ll stand on Your truth, and I’ll fight with Your strength
Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me.

I was impressed at the depth of these lyrics. They serve as a jumping board for my topic: He is God and we are not. Hopefully, these thoughts will serve as a tonic to remedy a popular—but weakened—view of God.

Our Need

The first principle suggested by the song is that God does not need us, but we need Him. The Scriptures are clear on this:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (ESV, Acts 17:24-25)

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Suffering - in Light of the Gospel

Two years after my whitewater rafting accident, my physical therapist dropped a bombshell in the form of a simple question: “Stephanie, have your doctors ever talked to you about MS?”

Little did he or I realize that less than a year later, my supposedly accident-related symptoms would take a dive, and suddenly all my doctors would be talking to me about multiple sclerosis.

Today, nearly nine years after my accident, I’m drafting this post in a Starbucks far from home. This morning I met with a neuromuscular specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Again, MS was discussed—but only in passing. It’s been ruled out too many times to be a serious possibility anymore. The doctor and I talked about the pain, weakness, numbness, and other symptoms that have plagued me the last several years. Despite tests and treatments at some of the best facilities in the country, to date there’s been no firm diagnosis.

The doctor and I discussed my physical quality of life—how it has waxed and waned over the years, and how I try to live as normal a life as possible. But a subject we didn’t broach is something actually much more pertinent to how I keep going day by day: my inner, spiritual quality of life. It, too, has changed a lot since my accident: a waxing and waning faith, a growing and healing that no physician could ever attempt, a deeper experience of the person and character of God—all rooted in a deeper understanding of the gospel.

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