Life after learning of Evie’s fatal diagnosis was hard. It was hard because I faced a reality most unwelcome. It was hard because I cried so much and all that crying zapped my energy and motivation. And it was hard because I felt like someone had taken my faith puzzle – the one where all the pieces nestled neatly next to one another, forming a picturesque picnic scene, or something equally as peaceful – and dumped all the pieces onto the ground, and then stomped on them, and then scattered them in various dumpsters in the dirtiest cities around. And it was my job to recover them and somehow put these dirty, gnarled pieces back together.
One piece of my faith puzzle that felt especially abused during this time was the one with my understanding of peace, joy, and thankfulness. I had come to believe that the peace which passes all understanding, the joy of the Lord, and the ability to give thanks in all things were feelings. And I believed that, no matter what my external circumstances might be, I would always feel this peace, joy, and willingness to give thanks. That’s what being a Christian is, right? It’s feeling God’s peace and joy and giving thanks in praise no matter what?
Then why, with the reality of my daughter’s life-threatening situation, didn’t I feel those things at all?
Was I a bad Christian? Was I quenching the spirit? Was I not one of the ones who are blessed for walking uprightly? Where had I gone wrong?
I remember asking almost everyone who talked to me about my morbid situation if I was doing this right. I just wanted to know, am I doing this suffering thing right? And, if so, why did I feel so badly? Why did I cry so much? Why did I groan in agony at the thought of leaving the hospital without my baby girl? If there indeed exists a peace that passes all understanding, a joy that can only be found in the Lord, and if those two fruits lead my heart to thankfulness, why was I so incredibly sad?
The truth of it all is that peace, joy, and thankfulness do exist, even in the midst of a storm. But they are not feelings. They are choices. By God’s grace, these are choices we make despite how we feel.
The peace that passes all understanding? It was there because I was actively choosing to focus on the ultimate healing available to me and my daughter in Heaven through Jesus Christ.
The joy of the Lord? It was there because I was choosing to see His good hand and His blessing, even when such misery surrounded me.
Giving thanks in all things and for all things? This one I could do too. But it was because I was choosing to count my blessings and focus on what I had rather than what I didn’t have or wouldn’t soon have, not because my heart was overflowing with the feeling of thankfulness.
As a Christian inexperienced with great suffering, the thought that good feelings would be absent while I served the Lord and carried out His will was absolutely foreign to me. But when circumstances dictated, for the sake of my own sanity, that I still seek peace, joy, and thankfulness as remedies for my broken heart, it became so clear that feelings have little to do with obedience. Obedience is a choice. A very conscious choice.
I wish I could say there was an easy way – a way to follow feelings right into peace and joy and thankfulness in the midst of pure torture. There is no easy way. But there is a simple answer. The way to find those good things in the midst of the bad is to choose. It will be a tiring fight, keeping your thoughts focused on Christ. But choose it. Choose it, for it is truly the only way.