There are a lot of journeys that we go on in life. Some of them are road trips with friends, some of them are family vacations that are so terrible they’re hilarious, and some of them are solo trips that we take to prove something to ourselves. Yes, life is full of journeys and adventures that we take. But some of the most important journeys are the ones that we never expected to take.
I have a sign in my kitchen that says “Find Joy in the Journey” and that has become a mantra for me over the last couple months. I made the sign when I was going through an exceptionally tough time in my life; I had broken my ankle which caused me to leave a job that I loved before I was ready, some of my relationships became stressed and eventually broke, and plans that I had been making for months in advance were suddenly and unceremoniously torn asunder. This was a path that I had never wanted to take, and somehow I found myself flung onto it with no map and no idea what to do next.
It was in that deep brokenness, engulfed by feelings of complete loneliness that I found it impossible to have a cheerful attitude in life. At the time in my life when I should have turned to God for support and comfort, I took one look at him and turned away. I blamed him for putting me in a place of such defeat and hurt. After all, weren’t all of his plans supposed to be for my good, to give me a hope and a future? This felt like none of those things, and like the worst kind of betrayal imaginable. I found it not only totally absurd but utterly impossible to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV) I was clearly lacking in many things, namely all of the things that I had lost. There was no way that I was going to be joyful about this, and there was no way I was going to thank God for letting this happen to me.
At the time it felt like I was never going to be happy again. That I was never going to be able to rebuild my life to the way that it was before. That I was going to be stuck on this path of pain and heartache forever. What I failed to see at the time, but have now come to realise and embrace, is that I was never going to be able to fix my brokenness, only God was able to liberate me from my pain. Only God could fill me with the joy to see the hard times as a blessing and an opportunity to fix my eyes on him when everything around me was falling apart. Only God could pick up my pieces and put them back together again. Only God could navigate me out of the darkness and into space where I was able to walk into a renewed sense of worth and belonging in his love.
Sometimes when we’re in the belly of the beast, at the very lowest points in our lives, it’s hard to think that God still cares about us. It’s even harder to remember that God not only cares about us but that his love for us is deeper than the ocean. In those moments when we feel like we’re drowning, it’s easy to give up on God, because it feels like he’s given up on us. I found solace and strength in Jonah chapter 2, which shows us the prayer that Jonah prayed while he was in the belly of a giant fish. Jonah felt so abandoned by God, and yet he was able to shift his perspective from his pain and pray from a place of not only deep hurt but also deep gratitude towards God.
“The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.” –Jonah 2:5-7 ESV (emphasis added)
As I look back on that time in my life when all I felt was hurt and broken, I can now see God’s guiding hand in it all and I understand why he let those things happen to me. I’m no longer living in the burning carnage, but in the new-found life that has grown from the rubble. God really does bring all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), but it’s all in accordance with his good purposes and timing. We have to have enough trust in him to weather the storms, to take the journeys we never wanted to take, and to experience things we never wanted to encounter. Now I’ll be the first to admit that that is a lot easier said than done. But it is doable, even if it takes a while to get there. And I promise that the outcome (no matter how far down the line) will make the heartbreak seem minor and momentary. Trust the one who knows where you’re headed, even if you can’t see the way, and try to find joy in the journey.