The Bible tells us to ‘Rejoice always’ which implies that God expects us to be joyful even when we’re suffering and in pain.
Said at the wrong time and in the wrong context, I think it’s a cruel request. I’m not going to tell someone who is grieving that they need to be more joyful!
So today, I wanted to look at the what ‘rejoice always’ actually means and then I’ll make some suggestions to help in this area.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess 5:16 – 18
I really struggled with this verse during the first few years of illness. To rejoice was the last thing I felt like doing.
REJOICE ALWAYS, EVEN IN SUFFERING?
There were definitely days and sometimes weeks where I would be all negative, wishing I could just curl up in a ball and die, thinking that God had forgotten me.
To rejoice even just a tiny bit was unthinkable. I just couldn’t do it.
I wonder if you can relate to this? Is your situation overwhelming you so much that you’re not feeling much joy?
I just want you to know, that this is ok, you’re not alone.
GOOD DAYS AND BAD DAYS
But there were times when, I’m sure thanks to the spirit of God and the prayer of those around me, I was full of hope.
I came to realise that as long as there were hopeful days, and as long as they eventually outnumber the bad, then this meant I was winning.
I’m still moving forward so making progress.
I say this because in church life, I sometimes feel there is a certain expectation to be happy all the time despite what’s going on in life.
I even had someone tell me ‘the Bible says you’ve got to be happy’. It was like a knife wound to hear. I felt so terrible, my life had been ripped apart.
IS REJOICING IN SUFFERING POSSIBLE?
God has given you joy as a fruit of the Spirit. This is your true nature. Everything you need is on the inside of us including the ability to rejoice.
This means that, even when you’re going through a difficult situation, it is still possible to grow in the joy that’s on the inside despite circumstances.
The answer is not in the external.
Andrew Wommack says this “Godly emotions are based on what Christ has already done, regardless of what is happening in the physical world”
However, from a physiological perspective, many of us with chronic illness are stuck in the freeze state (a combination of sympathetic which is fight/flight energy and dorsal shut down state).
If we choose to ‘be happy’ or try to ‘rejoice in suffering’ even though we’re actually in freeze, then all we’re doing is ‘putting ice-cream on top of poop’ as one mind body teacher once said.
You can’t just switch off Freeze. You can’t cognitively step into a different Nervous System state. I’m saying that there is a process which can help them access what God has put in them more fully.
So how can we apply 1 Thess 5:16 – 18 to our lives? Here, I list 7 ways I am growing in the area of joy, taking my nervous system into consideration.
1. NERVOUS SYSTEM AWARENESS
First of all, I check in with my nervous system.
If I find myself in a survival state, I know this makes absolute sense and it’s not my fault. (so I don’t feel condemned). See WHAT IS THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM?
2. GIVE PERMISSION TO NOT BE HAPPY
Secondly, I give myself permission to ‘not be happy’. I believe it’s ok and I take the pressure off. (Because this just perpetuates the survival states).
Unfortunately the enemy kills, steals and destroys. Most people with chronic illness have a history of either chronic stress or early and chronic trauma, which may be all stored in the body.
This has robbed us of our joy. My understanding, is that trauma stops a person being present causing disconnection on 3 levels.
Disconnection from self, from others, from God and the world around you. Hence the freeze state. (this is not a conscious choice.)
The goal isn’t happiness or joy. Nor is the goal healing. The goal is to grow closer to Jesus. Did the woman with the issue of blood rejoice always?, nor the widow at Nain or the leper who approached Jesus.
I don’t think it’s healthy or helpful to analyse whether or not you’re happy and rejoicing.
3. NAME THE FEELING
Acknowledging how I am feeling, describing and giving it a name lessens the emotional charge. It also helps me feel more authentic.
I can still praise God and be grateful but from a place of awareness and acknowledgement. There is no pretending or sticking my head in the sand. I am fully aware of the heartache or the anxiety type feeling in my body even when in praise.
4. REGULATING RESOURCES AND GLIMMERS
I encourage my clients to make a list of nourishing resources that help them feel a little more present and safe. Being in nature, time with a close friend, cuddling a pet….
It’s more of a priority for those healing from chronic illness to feel safe in their bodies, rather than feeling joy.
Glimmers are those little micro moments of pleasure. It could be a beautiful butterfly that catches your attention, a flock of birds flying overhead that made you smile or an old friend calls you out of the blue.
Bring attention to those glimmers each day. Just as stress can store in the body, so can all the nourishing good stuff too.
When I first started seeing a therapist many years ago, she encouraged me to record 3 things to be grateful for each day. Research shows that being grateful helps us activate the para-sympathetic nerve responsible for joy and peace.
I then go onto say why I’m grateful for something. ie ” I am so grateful that the Lord is always with me because I have someone to talk to, to share things with, I feel less alone…”
When I feel really brave, I even meditate upon why my present suffering is beneficial for me. ie, “I am grateful that I am closer to the Lord…..that I have a better relationship to myself…..that I can now minister to others more authentically….
Image: Rebecca Ballagh. Journey Into Wellness
THE OYSTER AND THE PEARL
I really love the analogy of the creation of the pearl. A grain of sand gets trapped in the oyster and becomes an irritant. It’s painful and uncomfortable for the oyster but eventually that grain of sand has turned into a beautiful and expensive pearl.
This is what is happening to us when we go through a season of suffering. When I look back at how I was prior to the onset of illness. All the irritants within me rose to the surface.
The anger, resentment, bitterness, pity. One by one I was set free from these as I continued this path. Low self esteem, inferiority, no confidence, self hatred, guilt, shame…..the list seems to go on and on.
The beautiful thing is, that Jesus did it for me. He didn’t once point the finger at all my ‘flaws’ or ‘hindrances’ and tell me ‘to go and deal with them’.
Whilst I can’t profess to have it all together, the depth of healing the Holy Spirit is doing within me brings me to a place of being, (ie a pearl,) I never would reach without the discomfort.
6. REMEMBER HOPE
It helps me to remember that there is always hope.
No matter how long I’ve been suffering or how bad the situation is, I can usually picture things getting a little better.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When I imagine things getting better, I may not feel super excited but I do usually feel a little better than before.
I think it’s realistic and kind to yourself to just look for a small shift rather than expecting an abundance of joy.
7. SUFFERING IS TEMPORARY
The Bible uses the phrase ‘and it came to pass…’ a lot. That’s because the Holy Spirit likes to remind us that our situation, if negative, will turn around. It’s temporary and won’t go on forever.
Anything that is temporary is easier to endure. This offers me a sense of relief and something to look forward to.
If I think I’m going to be suffering for the rest of my life, it’s a very painful depressing place to be. This is why we can never take off our helmet of the hope of salvation.
I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope
The Bible says our sickness today is a season. It may be a long and painful season, but seasons are meant to pass. God has promised to turn our valley of trouble into a gateway of hope.
When I think about what Jesus has already accomplished for me, this to me is where I find the joy in Him, and not the circumstances.
Am I filled to overflowing abundance of joy? No, if I’m honest, not really. But when I feel the presence of Jesus, I do feel that safe, warm and fuzzy feeling and as I write this I notice a smile on my face.
Yes, He does give me joy.
I wonder then, if having a sense of joy therefore is independent of our state. In my experience, and hopefully to your relief, I don’t think it’s something that we do in our own strength.
In my opinion, if you’re still planted with your church, still spending time with the Lord each day and still seeking to hear His voice, then you are winning.
Be proud of yourself.
See IS THE MEANING OF BETHESDA THE KEY TO YOUR BREAKTHROUGH?
YOU ARE AMAZING. GOD LOVES YOU AND BELIEVES IN YOU. YOU CAN DO THIS!!
Have a great rest of the day
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