I know a thing or two about sorrow. I’m sure you do too. Sorrow is as inevitable as death and taxes. So how do you cope with sorrow when you feel so mired down in the drudgery of life, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Let me share with you how I learned to choose joy in the midst of agonizing heartache.
The story that led me to this point in my life is long and winding and I won’t go into all the details but I will tell you that my life fell apart overnight. My husband and I had come to a crossroads in our marriage after dealing with years of his addiction and mental health issues and my ongoing struggle with (overwhelming, at times) anxiety and anger. He chose a path I never in a million years would have imagined he’d travel and I couldn’t follow him this time. Overnight I went from a crumbling marriage that very few people knew about to a very public separation brought on by his actions. The guilt and humiliation I experienced was crushing and there were days I didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed, much less care for my two young children (2 and 5 at the time) and on top of that hold down a full time job to provide for us. The pressure was intense and some days it wasn’t just minute by minute, it was second by agonizing second. So how did I climb out?
I began by praying first, every hour, sometimes every minute. I am a believer in Jesus and had I not had a strongly rooted foundation, I may very well have lost my faith going through this valley – which felt more like falling off a cliff. I learned humility – how to get down on my knees and beg God to help me through this and you know what? He did. Was it easy? No. It got even harder – the uncertainty, the shame, the fact that everyone in my community knew what had happened and looked at me with pity was hard to bear but God helped me accept the humbling circumstance and gave me an inexplicable inner peace only given by the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit.
I sought the comfort of my family and my church. Friends, if you do not have a church home, I strongly encourage you to seek one out. I do not believe you have to go to church to be a Christian but I can assure you that having that network of people to love you through those valleys can help you through the hardest times. I am so thankful that we have men in our church that my kids can look to for guidance while their father is gone. My family has been beyond amazing in this time of need and there are no words to express the gratitude I hold for them. They’ve shown me what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like and shown grace to my husband during this difficult time. I believe the mercy and love they’ve shown him and us has truly saved his life.
The Word has been my firm foundation. I cling to the promises in the Bible. I read it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. and if you don’t, let me encourage you to start. I do a chronological Bible study using the Bible App but even just a verse or two a day can be a tremendous help. My friend Matt McCarrick with The Phosphorus Project has a fantastic podcast called The One Verse Devotional that got me through a lot of hard days. There are lots of great podcasts out there that you can listen to in the car or while you’re working or at the gym. Get plugged in to the Word – this one thing has changed my life, even before this circumstance, more than anything else.
I choose joy. I have known for a while now that emotions and feelings are a choice. No one can influence me any more than I allow them and that includes the devastating circumstances life throws our way. I knew this was a defining moment for me and I had two little ones watching me very closely so I did what I knew was best for them – I choose joy, not chose as in past tense – choose. Each day I make a conscious choice that regardless of how stressful things are, how little money I have in the bank, how unfair life just is – I’m still choosing joy. So many emotions were brought to the surface over the six months (and now two years later) that followed that life changing event – shame, bitterness, anger, sadness, grief, guilt, and anxiety just to name a few. I went through a time in my life years ago where I allowed my emotions to dictate my actions. I spent months in bed, wallowing in my despair. Climbing out of that hole way back when prepared me to face the valley I was suddenly plunged into and I refuse to that pit of emotional hell.
I love others. I am not, by nature, a very loving person. In fact, I’m quite cynical and selfish, not to mention terribly introverted. Again, I decided to do what Jesus commanded us to do – love one another. The one person I did not want to love and certainly not forgive was the person God showed me needed to be loved the most. My husband. I did not want to forgive him. I wanted to divorce him. I felt abandoned and angry and I wanted to lash out but by doing what was against my nature – praying, staying in the Word, plugging into church – God gave me the strength and grace to love someone the way Christ loves me – without reservation.
None of this has been easy. In fact, it has been the most difficult and anguished days of my life. I recognize that God has grown me more in the last two years than I have probably grown in the ten years prior to this season. With the pain and heartache I have found the peace that surpasses understanding. Where most would only find misery, I look for moments of delight. The sunrises on my way to work, the ringing sound of my children’s laughter, a butterfly landing on a flower, rainbows in the sky – all beautiful things that I notice and appreciate in the midst of this affliction. It is a choice, friends.
I would like to add that if you or someone you know is dealing with thoughts of suicide, substance or alcohol abuse, overwhelming depression, I would highly encourage you to seek professional help. I personally have gone through counseling when I was dealing with terrible depression and anxiety in my early 20s and the tools I was given by a professional are ones that I’ve used throughout my life. Never be ashamed or afraid to speak out or get help.