Beyond the Pain

Fruit of the spirit is joy

By Brooke Stacia Demott

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

— William Goldman, “The Princess Bride” (1987)

Indeed, Welsey. Anyone who’s been alive more than five seconds can relate — there are seasons of sorrow in life that hypnotize you with the full drums of misery, rolling out the anthem, “life is pain.”

Our generation also offers the misleading annoyance of “selfie”-driven cyber communities where everyone tries to look carefree, beautiful, and confident. 20 years ago, the only people on screen trying to craft an image were celebrities; now everyone’s on screen, straining for as many “likes” as possible.

So, when hard times smack you with the reality that “life is pain,” seeing everyone you know (live streamed, 24/7) promoting their happiness can make you feel pretty lonely. However, it’s likely that somewhere underneath the Snapchat mask, they’re hurting, too.

It isn’t hard to make the case that we’re an unhappy nation.

Suicide, murder and mass shootings in America are becoming disturbingly common. The influx of online faux-community has made people more isolated and lonely than ever. Americans strive to fill their homes with possessions and their lives with experiences but are nonetheless discontent. Annually, over $19 billion is spent on antidepressants — and over 30 million Americans are taking them. Also, 145 million Americans suffer chronic health problems — that’s one of every two adults — while divorce rates climb and families crumble.

We’ve got problems and we only have so much strength.

Our reserve is easily depleted and difficult to restore. Each time we try and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, those straps get thinner and our arms get weaker. It only gets harder as we get older, disappointments mount, and loved ones pass away.

Our minds have a magnetic attraction to the negative, and so we often fixate relentlessly on what’s going wrong.

Is it even possible to find joy in all of this?

Yes, but not alone.

One night, a long time ago, Jesus knelt down in a garden. He was coming to terms with the undertaking ahead of him — to be tried in a false court, sentenced to a humiliating death, and forsaken by God and his friends. Trembling, he prayed that He would be spared the task, but “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God filled Jesus with the strength He needed to go on.

God as refuge

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” — Psalm 46:1

When trouble comes, God is near; and when God is near, we need to grab hold of Him.

God is the source of joy. Like a branch grafted to a tree, when we hold fast to God, we can draw continuously from His supply.

Joy means exuberant happiness — the kind that overrides any circumstance and undergirds us in every catastrophe. But is that realistic?

When a marriage falls apart, or the cancer has returned, when we are crushed by disappointment — how can we find joy?

Alone, we are weak, and our heads hang low in affliction. But God’s strength enables us to lift our eyes and see the endless stretch of blessings in our lives.

Gratitude is the first step toward joy.

For every complaint, count a dozen blessings. The dark backdrop of suffering often allows them to shine brighter. There are so many things to be thankful for — from sugar to songbirds, life supplies us a million little gifts every day.

Gratitude is a powerful weapon against despair.

Suffering is inevitable; you can choose to let it either grow your character or destroy you. Ask yourself: In my suffering, is my character growing, or my bitterness? Cast that bitterness aside and chart what you have learned. Hardship builds hope — let that hope fuel you to give hope to others.

Forgive people who have hurt you — posture yourself for forgiveness, even if they never ask for it.

• Brooke Stacia Demott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at brooketo@aol.com.

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