We can buy and acquire a lot of things at Christmas, but none of them will bring us joy. Happiness, yes, but not joy. Joy arises from something other than one’s pocketbook and possessions. It rises up from deep within one’s soul, no matter how many Christmas presents are around the tree.
The subject of joy emerged in a conversation yesterday morning with Pastor Tom Schiave, my Italian Baptist Godfather. Pastor Tom provides spiritual counsel and serves as my EQ advisor. Tom and I reflected upon a host of trials my family and I are enduring, most notably my son Christopher’s traumatic brain injury and the devastating aftermath in various spheres of life. I shared with Tom my ever growing realization that I don’t have much control over many of life’s circumstances and events, but I can control my responses to the trials. I added that by God’s grace, I am experiencing an inner strength and fortitude like I have never experienced, as well as mysterious joy.
Tom drew my attention to James 1: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4; NIV). Tom encouraged me to reflect upon the resonance of my experience with James’ instruction. He added that happiness is based on good happenings most of the time. Joy is based on something far deeper.
I resonated with Tom’s words and added that joy is not tethered to circumstances, but God’s character. God in his goodness shapes our affections and forms and transforms our character through adversity as we respond in faith to God’s providential care. Joy involves an inner state of flourishing not dependent on fleeting circumstances or presents under the Christmas tree, but on a keen sense that God is present and will transform and perfect us through various trials. Such joy is an incredible Christmas gift that will never fade, wear out, or perish.
Tom likes to say that hard times can make one bitter or better. How will you and I respond to the challenging circumstances we face in life? Will they serve as occasions for negative reactions and bitterness, or constructive responses and betterment as we look to God to work through our trials to make us mature and complete? Only the latter will bring us joy, lasting joy. Moreover, only the latter will assist me in caring for my son and his family.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent in the Christian liturgical calendar. Many churches will be focusing on the subject of joy today and highlight the angel’s declaration of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 1:8-12; NIV).
I don’t know how much the shepherds’ surrounding circumstances in life changed as a result of this news. But what did change for them, and what can change for us, is the growing recognition that God is present and cares for us.
I firmly believe Jesus is present at my son’s bedside and pray that even in Christopher’s minimally conscious state God is at work in him to make him mature and complete. Who knows what this entail for Christopher mentally and physically, but I did take comfort from a CNA’s report that Friday Christopher put his right arm through his shirt sleeve and his eyes and head moved to follow her whenever she was working in his room. It’s been nearly two years since the traumatic brain injury. It’s also been nearly two years since God has been working overtime to train my son and me to become victorious in the relentless and arduous battle of life.
Jesus is the Savior of the world who will make all things whole according to God’s timetable. Until that time, he seeks to make us whole, mature, and complete, as we rely on God to transform our hearts, character, and perspective on life. Consider such testing of our faith through trials pure joy for the perseverance, resilience, and grit it will bring about for our maturation. No matter what ordeal you are enduring today, may the joy of the Lord be your strength!
Thanks to all of you who are praying for us! You are making a great difference in our lives. For those who are interested, you can click here to find all the various posts that recount our unfathomable journey with Christopher and TBI. Here is also a link to a video for the book I wrote on the Christian liturgical calendar, including the Advent season.