It rained the whole week. Here we’d planned a much-needed getaway to our favorite city on the South Carolina coast, and instead of warm, life-giving sunshine, we had to splash our way through town with umbrellas and jackets. This wasn’t what I’d wanted.
The temptation to pout and give in to disappointment-induced-grouchiness, nearly overtook us. But then we peered out the window and saw the beauty before us. Despite the gray clouds and blustery wind, we bundled up and set out to adventure through a city full of antiquity and amusement.
And we had the best time!
The wintry weather may not have eased up, but we found that we could slow down — and enjoy it. What began as a low-blow became a blessing. What started off as a disappointment opened doors of delight we would never have discovered.
Be ready — it’s going to happen. In travels and in life, we will inevitably encounter setbacks and upsets. The question before us this week is how do we deal with delays, detours, and disappointments and not give in to the desire to pack things in and head home?
First, it is wise to remember the previous lesson of holding plans loosely. No matter how prepared we are, no matter how detailed our itinerary, the uncontrollable happens. Flight times change. Hotels overbook. Tours cancel. In life, the unexpected rips away all the hopes and dreams we’d clutched to our chests. Marriages end. Cancer wins. Money runs out. The changes and challenges threaten to ruin every prospect of joy.
“As we make plans, fill out lists, and do the things that need doing, may we remember still to remain open to surprise. Instead of insisting on clear plans, may we be willing to settle in and take the next right step even though it may lead someplace we didn’t quite pack for.”Next Right Thing, p.232
Emily P Freeman’s idea of remaining open to surprises challenges our hopes and plans. Her notion of taking the next right step even if it leads somewhere we didn’t expect (or pack for!) reminds us what little we control — except our responses. So, today let’s focus on the best responses in the inconvenient delays, the unexpected detours, and the painful disappointments.
Learning and Lessons
One response is to look for lessons in the lay-overs, for meanings in the hard moments. Sometimes God allows the letdowns and setbacks because He has something deeper for us to discover, spiritual work He wants to cultivate in our hearts and souls, but that doesn’t happen as we fret and flail, frustrated by the detours of life.
Admittedly, sometimes those lessons don’t come to light till we get a little distance from the deeper losses, but in many situations we can shift our responses in the moment to look for God’s purposes. Let’s not miss the transformation that takes place when we set ourselves aside for the greater good of the journey, of God’s deeper work. Sometimes what looks like a delay is part of God’s perfect timing. Or what appears as a disappointment is actually a divine appointment.
Rejoice as a Response
Habakkuk, a prophet in the Old Testament, lived in the days of Judah’s exile in Babylon — the darkest of days — and he demonstrated our next healthy response:
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV
Habakkuk’s list of all the losses the people of God endured isn’t just about food for the moment but also sustenance for the future because each crop and flock were sources of income. I look at a catalog of casualties like this one and can’t help but think of Job. EVERYTHING is lost. Everything. Panic rises. Despair settles in. The future seems bleak and hopeless.
This is how the people of Judah would have felt — all of them — because they’d lost everything in the exile. Yet, what does Habakkuk say in light of all this destitution? I will rejoice in the LORD.
In the midst of such loss, Habakkuk’s declaration is hard to fathom. But in case we doubt, he reiterates, I will be joyful in God my Savior. This intentional decision teaches us much about the reaction of rejoicing.
Back in January I journaled about this very passage. My response was raw and rough but real:
“We’re meant to praise Him–to ascribe to Him all the glory and honor He is due. Despite how we feel. Despite how we feel, He is still God. He’s still on His throne. He still has all the power and is still in control. He is still worthy of praise, glory, honor, and worship. Even when we are so broken and scared and lost that we don’t think we can lift our heads, much less praise. Rejoice. Rejoice? Rejoicing sounds like joy, like laughter and happiness and feeling good, excited, even celebratory. So, maybe my understanding of rejoicing needs to shift. Not so much about victory and celebration but more about adoration. More about getting on my knees and declaring to God just how great He is.”My journal entry 1/25/21
As I’ve been discovering, Habakkuk’s intentional decision to rejoice can be ours. His extreme example of exile shows us there is nothing we can face that is worse. No loss. No delay. No detour. No disappointment is larger than losing everything. He models for us a response that is holy and healthy. And, Habakkuk is not our only example.
The Mystery of Rejoicing
Philippians 3:1, a simple call from Paul to his brothers and sisters in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord, further demonstrates the rejoice response. Like Habakkuk, Paul found himself in dismal conditions — locked in a pit of a Roman prison. Yet throughout his letter to the Philippians, he exuded joy over and over. Paul encouraged his readers to do the same, despite the challenging circumstances they found themselves in.
If Paul, Habakkuk, and the Philippians found themselves in the midst of wrenching delays, detours, and disappointments, we cannot imagine them feeling very happy or glad. Yet they rejoiced. Do you see that this kind of rejoicing is not a response to blessings or bounty? Do you feel the significance of understanding why they would choose to rejoice in such circumstances?
JD Walt can help us. In a recent Daily Text post, he unpacked this Philippians 3:1 verse by defining the joy Paul embodied. This paragraph is what I call a JD’ism — brilliantly complicated. Admirably convoluted. Yet packed with truth that will help us untangle this mystery of rejoicing:
“Joy is supernatural. It is a wellness that transcends health, a state of being that eclipses emotion, and an inner realism that overwhelms apparent reality. Though it transcends the ephemeral notion of earthly emotion, we might think of joy as the primary emotion of the realm of eternal reality. Joy is that deep inner conviction that though things are not right, everything is going to be alright.”The Daily Text, May 2, 2021
JD urges us to see joy as a state of being that eclipses emotion — as transcending our understanding of emotion. To eclipse or transcend is to surpass or rise above. While I may feel something when joy is happening within me, that feeling is beyond any sort of earthly, “normal” emotion.
So, if it’s not an earthly emotion, what is joy? JD suggests it could be the primary emotion of eternity, the realm where we will live in the presence of God forever. Joy. An emotion yet not exactly. A feeling yet so much more. That about clears it up. 😉
Logic says if joy transcends emotion, then so would the action of rejoicing. Paul and Habakkuk didn’t rejoice because of how they felt. Instead, they chose rejoicing as their response because of who God is. No matter what we face, God is bigger still. No matter how we feel in the midst of all the hard moments, we can transcend all of it by an obedient act of rejoicing.
Andrew Peterson’s lyrics capture this choice in one of the songs on our Journey of Joy playlist:
And when the peace turns to danger“Rejoice”
The nights are longer than days
And every friend has a stranger’s face
Then deep within the dungeon cell
You have to make a choice
In all the delays, detours, and disappointments, we have a choice — react out of raw emotion or rejoice in the Lord who transcends it.
Habakkuk’s resolution to rejoice caused a shift in me. In fact, that shift continues to change me as we trek along this Journey of Joy. I started this jaunt of ours believing I couldn’t choose joy — I think because I still had joy in the category of earthly emotion. But what I’ve been seeing in the Pauls and Habakkuks of Scripture is their willingness to trust God and choose joy. So, joy is chooseable.
Last month I picked up a book I’d heard about called Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg. This book is so much more than a memoir, but it does capture Margaret’s journey with breast cancer and her decision to fight all the awful moments of that season with joy.
As God does, He put Habakkuk back in my path via Margaret. She did her own unpacking of the same passage, and ended with this thought:
“Habakkuk’s rejoicing does not center on circumstances; it’s founded on God’s intent and ability to save. Rejoicing is not a prescription as much as a gateway to possibility.”Fight Back with Joy, page 102
Because I’d been wrestling with the why of Habakkuk’s choice to rejoice, Margaret’s statement jumped out at me — rejoicing comes out of our understanding of God’s intent and ability to save. Margaret, like so many before her, discovered that to find joy, she must trust God. And that requires getting to know God well. When we know that God is good and that He is always for our good, our trust in Him grows. We trust His intent even when the worst happens. We trust He is able to save even if it looks differently than we planned.
When our faith is anchored in God, we begin to understand that rejoicing isn’t some slap-happy, fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of hoorah. And, as Margaret shared, rejoicing isn’t a prescription — something we do to make everything better. Rather, rejoicing happens because of who God is. And, rejoicing opens doors to things like joyful hope.
Friends, we may not be able to conjure emotions but we can choose to rejoice. Because of God.
Joy in the Journal
Looking back to a past journal entry and seeing what I had written was a gift. There was so much I hadn’t remembered. There was so much truth I needed to see again — from my own pen, no less! So, I hope you will do yourself a huge favor and journal today.
- I’d love to start by issuing you the same challenge JD did earlier this year: go through Habakkuk 3:17-19 one phrase at a time and write about what it means to you. While those opening lines drive home just how desolate things were in exile, I found I had my own memories and connections to each fruit and animal that impacted my deeper understanding. I bet you do too.
- After you unpack the Habakkuk passage, spend some time writing down your response to the idea of rejoicing in the midst of the delays, detours, and disappointments.
It’s All About the Journey
Friends, we’ve been traveling together for quite some time, and it’s taken a lot of self-control not to say this till now — it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. Next week we will talk more about the destination, so it’s good to recognize now that joy is not the destination. Joy is the journey.
Rather than letting the delays, detours, and disappointments of life become obstacles to our joy, we are learning to look for God and see how the unanticipated are actually part of the journey — because to vacilando is to travel with the understanding that our experiences are more important than the destination. So, instead of being derailed by the unexpected, we can choose to rejoice in our God because He is good and holy. He is sovereign and trustworthy. He’s the One — the only one — who will ALWAYS be there no. matter. what. And we rejoice!
I don’t know about you, but the word JOY jumps out at me everywhere I go. In a tiny town not too far from us, I found the cutest journal with the word JOY on it. Scrolling through my social media, I notice t-shirts with all sorts of sayings about JOY. Then strolling through a consignment mall with my hubby one stormy Saturday, I saw this:
And Larry knew before I said a word — I needed a picture. I needed a minute to take-in the gift that this was to me. So he gave me space to do both, and now I finally get to share it with you! (PS–I bought the magnet and it hangs on my fridge so I see it everyday!)
Find joy in the journey, friends!
- Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I mentioned Andrew Peterson’s song, “Rejoice” in today’s post. It’s the second song in the list, right after our opener by Ellie Holcomb, called “Constellations” — talk about a raw cry to God. Ellie captures the essence of what the hard things in life can make us feel — namely, alone. I thought this song represents where we often find ourselves in our journey of life. And our response to those hard places? Rejoice.
- This week’s journaling prompt is worth the effort. Allow yourself the physical and spiritual space to process each phrase of the Habakkuk passage, and see where it takes you! Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Comment below.
- Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
- Last week’s travel word was soli vagrant, Latin for wandering alone. Something we never are because of our constant Travel Companion.
- The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders at The Joyful Life.* The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
- Finally, I mentioned Margaret Feinberg’s book, Fight Back with Joy.* She does a great job of weaving in her experiences, the lessons she learned along the way, and practical ways she sought to bring joy to others when she was at her lowest.
*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.
Featured Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.