If I'm being honest, when I first became a military spouse, I did a lot of grieving. The happiest day of my life was followed by a year of letting go.
I grieved over the distance between me and my family. For all of the gatherings I had to miss because we lived so far away. I longed for my hometown and all of its familiarity and comfort. I put my professional dreams on hold for an indefinite amount of time. I struggled to find work because we were moving every few months. I felt worthless when I was unable to contribute financially to our family. I missed my friends. I missed my church. I missed my family. And most of all ... I missed myself.
There was joy in this new, strange adventure. But there were also tears. Even as those initial struggles faded, and I learned to settle into moving and living far from family, new ones emerged. The TDYs and deployments and the marital strains they caused. The fear and anxiety that can accompany everything from a headline about North Korea to the heart breaking news of a soldier lost.
The truth is that at every stage of military life, our quest for joy and peace can be a difficult one. There are always new challenges and strains. And sometimes we face old challenges but the struggle starts all over because we haven't faced them in a while.
And yet, Jesus wants our lives to be filled with joy and peace:
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11 ESV).
“ ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ ” (John 16:33 ESV).
He didn't say those words just for the people whose lives were comfortable. In fact, knowing what following Him would cost us, He spoke directly to those who would struggle the most.
And He left us a biblical road map to guide us into joy and peace, to help us rejoice and rest in Him no matter where our journeys take us. But before we follow the map, we need to know how the Bible defines joy and peace. Of course, joy and peace are positive experiences and emotions — that definition doesn't need elaboration. But the joy and peace the Bible lays out for us is very different from the "joy" and "peace" the world offers.
They Are Not The Absence of Suffering.
The Bible makes it very clear that joy and peace can and should be present in suffering, despite what the world might have us think.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV).
If we are supposed to have joy and peace in suffering, then they clearly do not exist only in its absence. Rather our persistence in rejoicing and seeking God’s peace changes our perspective of what suffering is and how it can impact our hearts. It is through our suffering that we learn to cling to the hope that will bring us joy and peace.
They Are Bound Up Together.
Joy and peace are two words that often appear side by side or at least near each other in the Bible.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13 ESV).
In part, that has to do with the fact that they both spring from our willingness to trust God and the hope we have through that faith. Joy and peace are indeed a choice, but the choice isn't necessarily to like or enjoy our struggles. The choice is to trust and hope in what God is doing through them, and to allow that perspective to change the way we experience trials.
They Come From God.
Our joy and peace in this life aren't just up to us. We aren't left with the story of salvation and then expected to figure out how to have joy and peace in every circumstance on our own. Our salvation is alive in Christ, and through Him we have been given access to peace and joy that exceeds our understanding.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).
“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalms 4:7-8 ESV).
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV).
Joy and peace are gifts that we will only truly find when we recognize that they only come from God Himself.
God is a good Father. And just as a father wouldn’t hand a small child a present that she couldn’t open, God hasn’t promised us joy and peace without also helping us cut the ribbons and peel back the wrapping paper.
The world would have us believe that joy and peace come from earthly things and exist only when we make ourselves comfortable and happy. The world dangles things before us as sources of joy and peace: food, sex, appearances, money, possessions, social media, success … the list could go on. But the world only gives us meaningless idols that distract us from what our souls truly desire.
Thankfully, the Bible paints a picture of joy and peace that is infinitely better than that. It paints a picture of emotions that are so deep and abiding that they carry us through our darkest moments. It tells us that we and the people or things around us are not our sources of peace. They cannot endlessly give us joy. Instead of making peace and joy things we blindly strive for, God makes them places of rest for our souls and offers them freely to us, wherever we are.
In coming weeks we will unpack the ways the Bible helps us peel back the wrapping paper to enjoy these gifts from God, even when military life makes them seem out of reach.
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- What are some things or relationships or activities that you turn to for joy and peace? Do they give you sustaining peace/joy or momentary relief?
- What are some things that you can pinpoint that tend to "steal" your joy? How do they do that? What do those things reveal about the source of your joy?
- What are ways you can stay tethered to God's truth and fight for joy and peace even when it seems counterintuitive?
- How can remembering what Jesus himself has gone through (or Paul or the other apostles) help encourage us in our own struggles to continue to endure and pursue joy and peace in the midst of hardship?
Consider fasting from something this week to ask the Holy Spirit specifically to come into your life and produce the joy, peace, contentment that you are yearning for. It could be giving up a TV show, Facebook, chocolate, or anything else that you turn to for joy or peace that isn’t God. But instead of just abstaining from something you enjoy, use the time, energy, and desire you typically exhibit for your particular interest to stop and pray. Only God has called us to ultimate peace in Christ Jesus as He reconciled us to Himself through His Son. And only God has authored joy in His son (Hebrews 12:2) to impart to us, so we are completely dependent on Him to sustain us in these ways.