The word “joy” evokes so many beautiful emotions in me. My heart clings to the playful giggles of toddlers playing. The squeals of children playing tag at the park. A mother first meeting her child after a long and difficult labor. All of these moments evoke a feeling of joy. However, real joy is not a fleeting feeling, but a deep–rooted emotion. It is a gift from a life lived in union with the Holy Spirit, a life anointed by God the Father. Joy can not be taken from us by trial or suffering. Through grace, we choose to live the joy that God offers us through life with Him.
When I found your words, I devoured them, they became my joy and the happiness of my heart.”Jeremiah 15:16
Jeremiah speaks to the joy that the words of Scripture bring to the open and untethered heart. How much God longs to fill us with His joy!
How do we possess open and untethered hearts?
To truly embrace what this fruit of the Spirit is, we have to discuss the opposing vice. I believe that the opposite of joy is oppression. With oppression, we feel the full weight and heaviness of our sin, our hurt, and our burdens.
Sin is heavy. Our soul feels the weight of all our anxiety, sins and burdens. We can often feel that we are alone in our struggles. Why does God care about my problems? God is love. He longs to unburden us, if we would only give over our baggage. However, instead of giving over these areas of hurt and pain, in our oppression, we create a place in our heart for them. We carve out a home for hurt. We tether ourselves to our own suffering, unaware of how we have now enslaved ourselves. We journey through life wounded, and yet expect the freedom to love deeply and freely.
We cling to hurt and deny forgiveness. We chose the emotions that make sense to us: anger, resentment and hostility.
For years, I struggled with my relationship with God the Father. I couldn’t understand the word “Beloved” or how that could apply to me. I wanted the visions of skipping through the wildflowers holding the hand of God the Father, but my heart couldn’t imagine that.
Our first impression of who God the Father is can be qualified through our relationship with our dad. As a young child and teenager, I wanted to feel loved by my dad. He was a hard man, with little emotion. He rarely shared his “delight” in me. I spent so much time trying to prove myself worthy of his time and attention. Nothing seemed to be good enough. My grades, my personal responsibility, my help in our home… it all seemed fruitless. I grew resentful and hurt as the years passed, and I questioned if I was lovable.
In those years, I, unknowingly, made an agreement with my hurt. I carved a space in my heart for all those emotions. The agreement or truth that I believed was “A Father’s love is conditional.” It was illusive and erratic. Through this “truth,” the love of God the Father was no different. He did not delight in me. I had to figure out the conditions of His love. Looking through the Ten Commandments, it seemed like he had a rather large checklist. It seemed daunting. I guess this was another area of my life where I was just going to be unfulfilled.
But I was wrong.
I was on my first Blessed is She retreat with a good friend. It was the second day of the retreat, and Beth Davis was talking about how the Lord had shown her that there were so many “hurting hearts” on this retreat. I bowed my head to pray for all those women. So grateful for my own loving husband, I had no concern for the status of my own heart.
It was only as I opened my mouth to sing the lyrics of “Pieces” by Amanda Cook that I realized I couldn’t sing.
“Your love’s not passive, it’s never disengaged. It’s always present, it hangs on every word we say…” As those words were sung, images of my relationship with my dad flooded my vision. Tears poured down my face as the Lord showed me all the hurtful images and encounters I had stored up in my heart.
“Your love’s not selfish…your love is pure…” More images of my dad. More hurtful memories, events, and disappointment. At this point, I was sobbing. In about 60 seconds, the Lord had exposed this gaping hole in my heart. So many painful memories. And then I heard the whisper of His Voice in my heart. “I was never your dad.” The truth of those words rocked me. God the Father was coming for me. He wanted my heart.
I was transported into this black room. I watched as His translucent hand reached into my chest and pulled out this broken heart. I watched as His rays of love penetrated my heart and healed it before my eyes. I felt the pain burn away. I felt so much love fill my heart. I had been freed.
God the Father was also showing me that I didn’t need to focus on the hurts that my dad had inflicted on me. My dad has dementia, and rarely remembers that he has children. I will not have the opportunity to share my hurting heart with him and receive that healing. But God knew that. I could hand them over to Him and He would restore me. I could offer forgiveness without my dad even knowing about my hurt. My hurting heart did not need justice. I could offer that back to God.
God offers us true freedom. He doesn’t want to keep His joy to Himself. He wants this for you and me.
Those who the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.”Isaiah 51:11
I was ransomed. My heart restored. My father came and showed His daughter that she was Beloved.
Where is God longing to bring you joy? Where have you carved out a place in your heart to store the hurt of another? Ask the Lord to reveal your brokenness to you, and then open your heart. Prepare yourself for His invitation to true freedom and His gift of Joy.