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How to Find Joy in the Painful Season

What do you do when it’s the season to be jolly and you seem to feel the farthest thing away from being just that? 

This past weekend, Pastor Steven Furtick preached a Christmas message about looking for Jesus in the “low” places. You know those places? The mornings you spend staring at the ceiling fan, unconvinced you’ll gain the strength to actually get out of bed. The moments you spend in the bathroom stall at work not to relieve your bladder, but to relieve the shame you feel from completely snapping at your coworkers just 5 minutes before. The nights you physically ache over the void of a loved one’s presence, whether they left your life voluntarily or not. The hesitation you wade in, unable to get ready for the day because the tears won’t stop, staining your cheeks and making them unsuitable for foundation, dang it. 

The moments that a harsh, bitter coldness comes over you, making you feel as if you are completely alone, even when you’re physically not. 

Those are just some of the low places I’ve experienced recently, and I know you have your own, too. 

It’s not that I don’t want to be excited this holiday season. Believe me, I want to be excited for Christmas. I want to forget my sorrows - drowning them in hot cocoa, chocolate crinkle cookies, and endless reruns of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the Jim Carrey version, obvi. No other version is acceptable).

But it’s hard this year. Now, before you worry too much - it’s not that I haven’t had any moments of joy. It’s just that those moments haven’t naturally lingered as long as they usually do. And trying to find more of them has felt like a complete dead-end.

But then, as Pastor Steven used shepherds and strips of linen as metaphors for low places this past Sunday (I won’t even try to explain it because it won’t do that sermon justice. Go watch it HERE. Seriously - it’s a top sermon from 2023), it hit me.

It’s not that I wasn’t finding comfort and joy because they weren’t there, my approach to finding them was just all wrong.

I thought joy would come in an answered prayer of our family being reunited this Christmas. I thought it would come in the disappearance of the haunting ache of disappointment. I thought God would instantaneously take away the pain of my broken heart this season, immediately replacing that pain with great tidings of joy.

So, with a family that’s still quite broken this year, disappointment continuing to linger, a brokenness that consumes my heart, and shame in my inability to let the joy of the Lord be my strength!, I wonder: Can I really find Jesus in this place? 

I’m learning that I can.

I find Him when I search for His fingerprints amidst it all, not waiting until the absence of it all. 

Jesus never promised the absence of pain. But He came, in a lowly place, to sit with us in our most painful places. Jesus doesn’t just show up in our best moments. He’s there in the lowest ones too, and we grow closest to Him when we look for space to invite Him in - to let Him sit with us, comforted that He understands and empathizes with us in our pain. Joyful in knowing that He is working something together for a purpose far greater than the current pain we might feel.

I’m realizing that it’s easier to type than to live out.

But this truth will give you the strength to get through some of the most difficult of times.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a crowd favorite scripture. And considering that it’s the first tattoo etched as a permanent declaration on my skin, I am definitely part of that crowd. However, years later, I’d argue that it’s no longer a top favorite when void of its attachment to verses 12 & 13.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” Jeremiah 29:11-13

Jesus is found when I seek Him with ALL of my heart - not just the put-together pieces of it. 

So often, I have waited until my heart was completely restored to invite Him in. I’ve waited until the pain diminished, and the warm spaces of my heart beat again to see He’s with me. I couldn’t always feel His presence until the broken parts took a back seat, hidden from the forefront. 

But what if I didn’t have to wait? What if I could find Jesus IN my brokenness, not just on the other side of it? Verse 13 shows me that I will only find Him when I seek Him with my WHOLE heart, including the parts I’m often ashamed to lay out on the table. 

So, this week, as I did some solo traveling for work, I assigned myself a mission to look low.

I mean, I was about to embrace some real LOW temperatures in Michigan and Ohio, so why not fully sell out? And guess what? I found Him. 

I saw Him in the patient, gentle spirit of the front desk receptionist at the hotel I stayed in. When I initially walked in, her head was hanging LOW, a seemingly melancholy state pasted on her face. But as I approached, she looked up, presented a warm smile, and graciously answered all of my questions - that warm smile never leaving her face. I thanked her and encouraged her that she was doing a great job.

Her smile grew. So did my joy.
A simple exchange of authentic kindness. 

I saw Him on a brick-lined street in Columbus, Ohio. On my way to grab an oatmilk latte at a coffee shop I spotted, I noticed the awning of the adjacent shop - the obvious name of a bookstore printed on it. And then, a sign that stood just beLOW it, denoting that this wasn’t just an ordinary bookstore, it was a glorious piece of heaven. 32 rooms full of bargain-priced books. 32 ROOMS. How had I stumbled across not just a cutesy small town coffee shop (Hallmark fanatic over here!), but simultaneously an unpolished bookstore - two of my favorite things?

My eyes grew with adoration. So did my joy.
An intentional sign of thoughtful love. 

I saw Him on my flight. At a high vantage point, I gazed out the window, beLOW the clouds. An endless supply of white farmhouses scattered across rural land (hello, dream life). And I smile, thinking of their inhabitants - the stories that exist within the very walls of these homes. The messy moments, the beautiful gatherings. All of their hearts beat with grief, ache, love, and grace, too. All of these hearts with stories so unique, yet all necessary for the same purpose to illustrate His glory.

As we descended, the size of those homes grew. So did my wonder.
A tenderhearted illustration of brilliant writing.

I can see it now, looking low. I see His fingerprints, everywhere. And my focus shifts from my pain to His presence. But I can only see it when I am in a position where I have the ability to look low. And my position is not contingent on my present emotions.

When I choose to look through the lens of His great love, even when I feel greatly broken, I see tracings of His presence. I feel His embrace. I find opportunities to meet others in their own pain, providing space for them to see Him, too. 

I may feel low, but I know Jesus is with me in it. I may not feel joyous as often as I’d like to right now, but I will choose to find the small moments that bring joy. I will let Him in, trusting that He’s healing me, right now. After all, pain is an indication of the exact space where healing needs to take place. Why wouldn’t I let the Healer into those pinpointed places?

So, while I endure the pain, I trust that there is a higher purpose in this low place. But I won’t wait until I figure out what that purpose is to look for traces of His love and goodness. I choose to find them now, grasping the moments of joy they bring and embracing the consuming love of my Father.

And that? That is enough to give me the strength, hope, and comfort I need to keep going.

So, if you’re in a low place this holiday season, I guess I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone. And you don’t have to wait until it's not painful anymore to find everything Jesus is - He's love, joy, comfort, peace, and more. He's everything you need, and He's here.

His presence just might look different than you thought.

Even when it’s painful, He’s with you. He loves you, and He’s got you.

Take a breath. Acknowledge your pain. Then, find a new vantage point.

You might be surprised by what you find.


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