My husband, Steve, had been a daily source of joy for me for more than 50 years.

Daily, he made me coffee, shared that he loved me, praised my cooking, told me I was beautiful, assured me that I could do anything God gave me to do, and always believed in me.

Such a source of joy!

Six months ago, Steve left me. It was not his choice, but God’s. Complications from a cancer treatment ended his earthly life, but he joyfully moved to his new heavenly life.

I miss him terribly, but how can I not rejoice that he is with Jesus and free from the growing troubles his body was facing?

Did I say rejoice? Indeed. As great a loss as this has been for me, my children, and grandchildren, and as often as tears come, I can still rejoice.

And that’s one reason why I believe God can give us joy—abundant joy—even as we navigate the hard journey of loving a prodigal and other difficult challenges.

What gives you joy? For most of us, joy and happiness are synonyms.

The things that make us happy often provide joy in our lives.

What often brings us joy are the loving relationships we have: family, a spouse, children, grandchildren, neighbors, church friends, co-workers. The people in our lives can be the happiest parts of our lives.

Other sources of happiness might be a sense of purpose, meaningful work, a nice home, good health, fun and refreshing activities.

And even when your team wins the championship.

But then there are realities that seem to steal our joy away: loss of a job, financial challenges, a scary diagnosis, betrayal by friends, and interpersonal conflicts.

And—the pain and challenge of a prodigal, of a loved one making destructive life choices or causing chaos for the family or rejecting a relationship with you.

Our God tells us we can have joy in all those bad events I just mentioned, even when my husband dies or your loved one breaks your heart.

Consider it Joy

My theme verse is James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”

James calls us to make a choice—to consider, that is, to acknowledge, recognize, and regard the trials of our lives as pure joy.

Seriously? Pure joy? Not just grudging joy?

So James goes on to remind us of gifts we receive from those trials: “…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 1:3-4).

Most likely, perseverance hasn’t been on your list of desired gifts. Though, we must admit, it helps us get through hard times. I think perseverance has been one of my most important gifts.

Just look at the result of growing in perseverance: to be mature and complete, lacking nothing! We have all we need.

Ask the Questions

Yet, even as God calls us to perseverance—and joy on a hard journey—he also invites us to be honest with him, to express our fears and feelings, to ask challenging questions, to lament.

What is lament? A lament is a prayer expressing sorrow, pain, or confusion. Lament could be the chief way Christians process grief in God’s presence.

Almost a third of the Psalms and the entire book of Lamentations are concerned with lament.

Like he does every other emotion, God wants to hear about our pain. God wants us to lament.

Listen to these words from Psalm 42:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Savior and my God.”

As you can see, God welcomes our praise, but also our pain. He receives our gratitude, and also our questions.

Sometimes God Answers Questions

After Steve’s death, I had a lot of questions. Answers included scriptural promises and reminders, and also “trust Me” and “wait” and “persevere.”

But God was also kind to give me almost audible answers to some of my questions. These two have been the most important and helpful:

“How will I live without him?”

God’s response, repeatedly: “I will be with you.”

“Why did he have to leave now?”

This response has been an ongoing source of joy for me: “I wanted to be kind to him.”

How can I argue with that?

God calls us to consider it pure joy when the journey is hard, and as we do, we will find valuable life-giving gifts. But he also invites us to tell him how hard it is, how much it hurts, how confused we are, and to ask our deep and honest questions.

And in the process, he will give us joy!

*For further reflection today, listen to James 1 and Psalm 42.

  1. James 1
  2. Psalm 42

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~This is the first of four devotional studies on “Joy in the Hard Journey.”

***Please enjoy a meaningful and insighfut interview with Judy Douglass here!
***

The song “New Wine” begins

“In the crushing…In the pressing…You are making new wine.”

My early elementary report cards showed “outstanding” rankings, except for one “needs improvement” blot on my second-grade report card. The category described how I “handle disappointment.” Many were my youthful tears—whether shed behind a textbook, on the sidelines of lacrosse, or upon my bed. From my early days, I did not handle disappointment well.

Jesus talked about the need for “new wineskins” with new wines. (Matthew 9:17) The old wineskins would no longer suffice because the new wine would bust them wide open.

In the same way, as an adult, I needed to learn to let go of what I thought my life was supposed to be—the old wineskins—and embrace the reality of entirely new wineskins and the new wines they would hold.

Crushing and pressing are involved in making new wine. On the heels of two very crushing experiences, I faced a continual need to surrender in order to fully produce this new wine, and it all felt so disappointing.

Disappointment never crushed me more than when we had to leave our life in Hungary after I experienced my first mental health crisis.

However, amid all the horrible lies I heard during my manic episode in Orlando, God whispered more fervently, “Endure, beloved, endure.”

I didn’t know what this message meant except that I needed to hold tightly and remember that God was real despite all the lies.

All I could do was seek to hang on to the overarching truth of Christ’s redemption.Christ’s remarkable story would win in my life and in all things.

Sometimes, dear reader, this is all we can do.

With something like mental illness, when our minds are sponges for deception, we have to trust the greater truth of God. He is present beyond every crushing experience, making new wine for us and within us. And not just any wine, but full-bodied, rich, exquisite wine that will one day be served at the great feast of God in the new heaven and new Earth.

As we walk this long road home, there may be many times God calls us to endure. Every one of our beliefs may be tested, but our deepest truths can come to life in this pressing time.

We are made for God, and he will have us forever, basking in his love’s beauty and heavens’ fullness. Moreover, this new wine he makes of us will bear the stunning story of his beauty replacing the ashes of our sorrow.

*For further reflection, listen to Matthew 9.

  1. Matthew 9

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Adapted from A Million Skies: Secure in God’s Strength When Your Mind Can’t Rest © Abigail Alleman, 2022.

There’s a Life that Jesus died for us to have.

It’s already set, already in Place,

a Life of Promises fulfilled,

where Good Cheer prevails,

despite the Trials and Tribulations we see.

It’s the simple Life of Faith and Grace that is easily preached.

Yet, it is more complex to Live,

especially on a daily basis.

I found this out first hand recently when my pastor came to stay at our house for a few days. During the first night, my family and I were excited to have our special guest staying at our home. 

However, by the second day, the excitement began to wane and our daily routine started to kick in. And with it, came our normal daily challenges that often turned into disagreements. I almost always ended up saying things I should not have said.

This time, my Pastor was there to witness it first hand, but didn’t say a word, instead, just observed. The next day, she lovingly talked to me privately about what she witnessed and reminded me it’s our daily lives that bear witness to what we truly believe.

John 10:10 says Jesus came

to give us a Rich and Satisfying Life.

But how do we Tap into this?

How do we Experience Christ in Everyday Life?

Enter Grace.

Looking over my Life,

how quickly things can change day by day,

I cannot obtain All God has for me

by my works Alone.

“And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.” (Romans 11:6)

This Faith Life is activated

by what we Believe of God’s Word.

His Word tells us

what we Achieve is by His Grace.

His Word reminds us that God’s Grace is all we need. His power works best in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Enter Faith.

So as our daily lives continue to take shape,

let us be Reminded that

God is really looking for our Faith.

“But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8b)

At the end of the day,

This is what will be

Pleasing in God’s sight.

Let’s stay in Faith and be Encouraged in Grace.

*For deeper reflection, listen to 2 Corinthians 12.

In the darkest years of my journey as a mom with our prodigal son, Isaiah was my closest friend.

As I searched God’s Word for help and hope, He repeatedly met me in the book of Isaiah, especially beginning in Chapter 40.

He comforted me and encouraged me with words such as these

And many more.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.

Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you and help you.

I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (41:10)

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

He will carry the lambs in his arms,

holding them close to his heart.

He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (40:11)

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.

O Israel, the one who formed you says,

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

I have called you by name; you are mine. (43:1)

For I am about to do something new.

See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (43:19)

At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.” (60:22b)

And many more.

As I listen to her.BIBLE, I love the beautiful voices of daughters of God while appreciating every book. I have eagerly anticipated the completion of the Book of Isaiah.

It is out now, and I am dwelling there with my Lord, listening to challenges, comforts, hopes, and promises.

Our prodigal is in a good place now. But that last verse, Isaiah 60:22b, has been faith and courage for me in every difficult time in life, ever since.

*For deeper reflection, listen to Isaiah 60.

When I mention Eve’s name, what automatically comes to your mind? Her deception and fall? Her foolish conversation with the serpent, or her confession, “The serpent deceived me, and that’s why I ate it” (Genesis 3:13)? In some quarters, that is all we ever hear about Eve.

But, thankfully, it’s not the end of her story. The Lord’s response to her confession of sin wasn’t judgment or even condemning silence. It was a promise of new life, a life that would bring victory and turn Eve’s confession of her sin into an opportunity to demonstrate mercy. Eventually, Jesus, the perfect Son, will mend everything broken.

Amid all Eve’s sorrow over her sin, Eve believed God. How do we know? When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” (Genesis 4:1). Look at that.

Here is our flawed mother, proclaiming her faith in God. She had had a son “with the Lord’s help.” She believed that she was still beloved and God had granted her new life. And, that’s not all we hear from her. We don’t know how much time passed between Cain’s exile, Abel’s murder, and Seth’s birth (Genesis 4), but here Eve is again, confessing both the devastating realities of her world and her ongoing trust in her Father. “God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed” (Genesis 4:25). Twice she confesses her trust in God. Twice she proclaims profound theology: God is sovereign, and people are responsible for their actions. Twice she tells us that we, too, can persevere.

When you think of Eve, do you recognize her as a wise theologian, full of great faith, persevering through the crucible of intense fire? Eve’s story is good news as she encourages us to see all of our life under the watchful eye of a loving Father. Eve gives us the courage to confess his faithfulness, as the God who gives good gifts and who helps us in our grief.

And Eve speaks to me: I can believe that God is good enough to use all my weakness and sin to glorify himself, and I can speak it to others—even to my own doubting heart. Take courage.

*For further reflection, listen to Genesis 4 today.