How To Have Joy When Life Kicks You In The Teeth

Monday, April 06, 2015


I recently read an article on the new "happy people" that treat having joy and happiness as a moral issue. According to this idea, if you're not able to be happy during something hard, you're not doing it right. I believe this to be completely false. Joy isn't about always being happy or feeling awesome when you go through something hard, in fact a lot of times that's just not possible. Joy is more related to having faith and/or hope. Joy is also not quitting when things are burying you. That is why the heading at the top of my blog says, "Where there is life, there is hope." Life can, at times, totally kick you to the ground. As long as you can find something, anything, to hope for, you're farther along than you think. It doesn't have to be big. It can be something as simple as, "I can't wait to eat that bowl of ice-cream tonight."

Last year I wrote on my old blog, The Truth About Blondes, about an experience I had where I spoke openly in one of my church's sharing meetings about what life had taught me about having faith. The original post is here. It's quite a good one, and even looking back on it now, I can remember how much I felt the love of my dearly-departed mother that day. I had done something big, and I felt her joyful pride showering down on me.

Below are the basics from that post about what I've learned on having faith/hope/joy. I share this, not to dwell on the fact that she died, but to show you that joy exists even when we are buried in hardship. I wasn't happy at this time. In fact, I was broken-hearted, exhausted, depressed, and anxious. But my heart knew that someday I'd be on the other side of a mountain that I was not even beginning to climb yet. Check the original post to see it in it's original context. (It's a great read). 

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For most of last year, I was battling the whole idea of faith as I knew it, and the struggle was very difficult. I’d always thought faith was believing in the power of God to give you what you want. The last year taught me that it’s believing that if you don’t get what you want, you’ll still be just fine, and will be able to move forward with hope. The hardships won’t kill you, and if they do, you will still be ok. I couldn’t see my mother dying as anything but a happiness killer for me, and I really thought I’d never be ok afterward. 

I just wanted to talk a little bit about what’s happened to me, and to my family,  this past year. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer in March of 2013, it was a total shock and we felt broadsided. I was so angry when I learned that the average lifespan is only 18 months with this diagnosis, and I spent many a day angry with God for doing this to us and her. Shortly after her diagnosis, my friend sent me a talk about faith, that was so appropriate. It was about a man who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after marrying in his early twenties. He was given a healing prayer by his religious leader, but before the prayer he was asked, “Do you have the faith to be healed?” He said yes, of course, but then he was asked, “Do you have the faith not to be healed?” After a long pause he said, “Yes.” 

When I read this story, I was so angry at God, and basically everything, because I knew I had to find this type of faith, there was no other way around it. It had to be the faith that all would be well even if my mother died instead of lived. It took me nearly the whole rest of the year to understand how that was even possible. I was so sure that if I accepted that her death was an option, that I’d ruin the cycle of faith for her healing, and seal her fate to death.

In November of 2013, my parents stopped by my house. I learned that if she didn’t have a 2nd surgery, she would be gone by Christmas. She didn’t want to do it and wanted to prepare to meet her God, but my grandpa and stepdad talked her into it. With the second surgery, she was only given an estimate of six more months. Surely by then they’d have found a way to heal her. 

But that six months gave us all a dose of reality that I couldn’t accept anything but what would actually happen. I found the faith that I had been looking for -- the faith that she could die, and I could live on without my most trusted advisor. I remember saying a prayer to my God that night that whatever happened, we all wouldn’t suffer afterward. To keep this from being the beginning of the breakdown of our family. To not let it destroy all of us. 

Easter weekend in 2014, she passed away. She was 58 years old.  And through all this, I have seen that the faith I had to find for myself is true. You can be ok afterward. I have my moments, days, or weeks of depression, of intense grief, but I have many others of peace and despite the hole in my heart that I can’t seem to get rid of, my days are still sunny. I can still get up and do what I need to do.

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Joy isn't always running through a field of flowers singing your heart out while butterflies land in your hair. Sometimes it's as simple as knowing that one day this pain that you carry will make you into the person you are meant to be. Sometimes it feels as though this new agenda of happy makes those of us who struggle feel like we're just incapable. That's simply not true. The journey to joy is relative to the traveler. Your path may be a 90-degree, vertical, smooth-faced cliff, while another's seems like a sidewalk along a tree-lined street. We all will have our cliffs, and our sidewalks. Don't give up if you're not finding joy as easily as it appears another is. 

So, when you're struggling just remember this simple equation:

YOU + YOUR STRUGGLES + YOUR SUCCESSES = JOY

Sometimes just knowing you made it through the hardest day of your life, so far, is enough to say you're a champion.


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23 comments

  1. Wow, what a great example of faith! I agree- so often we mistake joy with happiness. When really a lot of the things that will bring us joy (long term) are things that don't ALWAYS make us happy (short term). It can be so confusing. Thanks for posting this to remind us what faith and joy really look like.

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    1. I totally agree. I think people feel like life isn't going well if it's not always sunshine and butterflies. But that isn't life, and if it were you'd become unappreciative of the monotony of happy. The journey is the joy. Most of us wouldn't trade the bad moments we've had because they led us to the awesome moments that really made our lives. Thank you for reading!

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  3. It is a hard lesson to learn joy from happiness. My husband and I had a hard past 2 years after leaving Texas and moving to Colorado then California last year. Life wasn't what we expected and yet I am joyful, appreciative of the things He taught me through those valleys.

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    1. So glad you were able to find some good in it all. It definitely isn't easy to always see the bright side, and it's totally ok when we don't. We're all just humans. :) Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Very nice post Lana.. yes it's the valleys where we experience true joy, even tho it does not seem like it at the time. Keep up these encouraging posts..someone will always need them!

    Blessings to you~
    Valerie

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  5. This was such a great read! And a great reminder that faith above all else is what makes life great even when it's not so great. So encouraging!

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  6. This is so great! I LOVE the quotes. Having joy is difficult for me, but these are great reminders.
    xo, Caitlin
    And Possibly Dinosaurs

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    1. Yes, sometimes it really is hard. Thank you!

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  7. Don't our struggles make us appreciate our successes that much more!! It can't be all lollipops and roses, but you can always look past the negatives to better days.

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    1. I could certainly go for some lollipops though. Thanks for reading!

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  8. Last year was a hard year for us. I struggled terribly. I reminded myself every day to find joy, but I rarely did. Sometimes you just have to dig through, come out the other side and find joy in having found many lessons in the process.

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    1. Amen to that. Sometimes knowing you survived one of the things on the "Worst things that could happen to me" list is enough!

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  9. Such an incredibly beautiful and moving post! So sorry for your loss, I know that had to have been difficult to cope with. There are millions of forms of being happy and sometimes having joy is just coming to terms that you're in this life for a reason. Beautiful!

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  10. Such an amazing post! It is so hard to accept things like this and it speaks volumes to your own strength to have ultimately found the faith that you were looking for. I am so sorry for your loss.

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  11. This is so beautiful. I completely agree with your version of happiness, I'm an optimist at heart and do try to find a way to be happy with most situations but for some you just need to live through the pain and heartache knowing it will feel better at some point once you've made it through. I'm sorry for your loss - I'm glad you found a way through it.

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    1. That's definitely the truth. I think people mistake being happy with having joy. I don't believe that joy is a constant state of happiness. I think sometimes it's knowing that whatever garbage this is, right now, isn't always going to be the norm.

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  12. I am so sorry for your loss! My father passed away from brain cancer last year and our experience was very similar. We also got a miraculous extra 6 months to spend with him.

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    1. Thank you for your words. I'm so sorry for your loss as well. We got about a year with my mom. But she was only supposed to last 5 months. Sadly the last 7 months-ish were quite different. As I'm sure you experienced. She struggled a lot with basic self care and speech. I wouldn't wish it on even my worst enemy!

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