Finding Joy

One of the larger office supply stores advertises that buying from them is like having an “easy button.” With a simple push it solves all your office supply problems. Many people spend their lives looking for an “easy button” for life. They are convinced that if only they find the right person, follow the right steps, join the right organization, read the right book, view the right film, vote for the right politician or attend the right seminar, then that will fix everything that is wrong in their lives.

There are some seasons where it is difficult to find any satisfaction in life. During the summer of 2011, my father-in-law died after a long illness, my father was diagnosed with cancer, my oldest daughter has moved out to go away to college, I finished up the contracts on two books, my middle daughter was about to begin driving lessons, my youngest daughter faced serious psychological difficulties and my wife, a teacher, was increasingly stressed at school thanks to the bureaucrats and politicians. Oh, and her income was reduced by about ten percent while her workload just keeps going up. This summer, my daughter was in a car accident that wasn’t her fault. She’s fine. And my father is now cancer free. But then this summer, my pastor got cancer and is currently undergoing treatment. I remain between book contracts. And my wife–and education generally–continues to suffer the consequence of California’s incompetent politicians and bureaucrats.

Life rarely gives us the relaxation and recuperation we’d like. We finish one crisis only to lurch into a new one and there’s never an “easy button” in sight.

Each of us faces a variety of stresses and problems, along with triumphs and ease. There are times when we believe we can take on the world and we have confidence that we will overcome. Perhaps we felt such enthusiasm when we began a new job, or after we first got married. Or perhaps it was when we graduated from high school or college, or gave birth to our first child: the road ahead seemed bright and full of hope.

But today, perhaps you’re faced with financial problems in the midst of an American economy in shambles. The job prospects for the newly graduated, the newly unemployed, and the long term jobless are bleak. Discouragement is hard to shake. In fact, sometimes it seems the only reasonable response.

So how can you lift yourself out of the doldrums? How can you reignite the spark of hope, find a way to face today without the ten pound weight in your gut?

What would be wonderful is if there were some formula one could follow, perhaps a simple ten step plan. Even a complicated ten step plan. Anything to make the bad feelings go away, to reignite a sense of life being worthwhile once again would be wonderful. If only, we think, we could find some joy in our existence once more: to discover a sense of satisfaction.

But finding joy does not come from a set formula and it does not come from pretending that the troubles and barriers currently burdening our souls are not there. Instead, joy returns only gradually, as we continue walking down the road. Like the grief we experience upon the death of a loved one, the grief of overwhelming problems will only fade with time. It sounds harsh, but the way out is the way we accomplish any journey in life: by simply taking one more step. We choose to keep walking, rather than to lie down and die. All we ever get is the “hard button,” but that’s okay.

We will reawaken our joy as we keep on getting up every day. With each task that we do, however small, we make progress toward a return to normalcy. Joy slowly seeps back with each dish that we wash, with each lawn mown, with each repair made. Joy sneaks back when we discover that we have survived another day, when we finally sleep through the night, when we take a walk, and when we talk to a loved one.

Perhaps for some few people, joy will return in a blaze of glory, with a sudden reversal of fortune like something out of a Hollywood musical. But for most of us, joy comes back slowly, day by day, month by month, so gradually that we barely notice that we’re all right once again. It would be nice if there were an “easy button,” but television commercials aren’t reality. All we can do is survive, push on, and let time heal our wounds. Joy always returns, just like the sun always rises, and winter turns to spring.

Send to Kindle

About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *