Debbie’s teenage daughter, Taylor, wasn’t feeling well one Sunday morning. No fever — she was just a bit tired and feeling punk, as my mother used to say. So Debbie tucked her girl in bed and let her rest as she and her husband and their younger child, Ben, went off to church.
When the family returned home a few hours later, Debbie went in to check on Taylor. She was unresponsive. In a panic, Debbie screamed for her husband to call 911. The emergency response team came quickly, but in the hours that followed, Taylor descended deeper and deeper into a coma from which she never recovered.
Days later, Taylor slipped into eternity, passing away at the hospital on a cold spring morning bitter with frost.
Debbie knew that her daughter was safe forever in the arms of her Savior, but her own arms were empty. The pain in her heart swallowed her whole, and she slipped into an emotional coma of her own. Unable to stir herself from her bed, she spent the next months in her darkened room wrestling with God and her own inability to save her child. Her passion for life had been snuffed. It was as if she, too, had left the land of the living. Joy? It had passed away along with her beloved child.
Until one day.
Debbie’s younger son, Ben, was not gone. He was alive and well and grieving the loss of his sister in his own way. He had suddenly lost Taylor and then, in the days that followed, watched his mother slip away from him as well. His sorrow was magnified, his fear left unchecked. Joy was out of his reach.
Desperate, Ben came into his mother’s darkened room and opened the curtains. He sat next to his mother and told her, “I am alive. I need you. Don’t you love me anymore?”
The Holy Spirit grabbed hold of Debbie in that moment. Through her son, He convicted her to not abandon the family He had given her. She was called to love. She needed to love her family who remained, and in order to do that, she had to choose to live. She had to follow the call of Christ to press into the heartbeat of heaven and choose to believe that joy was still within her and her family’s reach.
She got out of bed. She chose to love God even without understanding why her treasured daughter was gone. She expressed that love by obeying Him and loving others, starting with her family. She began by bringing flowers to their breakfast table. She reintroduced music to their silent home. She began to slowly and intentionally cultivate joy in her own heart. She sought help for her grief-filled depression and began to take baby steps to rekindle the joy in her family’s life as well. Debbie continues to heal, and part of that journey includes leading grief recovery groups at her church. Her joy has slowly returned as she has grown in offering her love on behalf of others.
The Kingdom of God is filled with paradoxes, surprises. We set out to find joy for ourselves, only to discover the greater joys waiting for us when we live for others. The reason I bring all this up is simply this: Quite often we cannot find reason enough to choose joy and pursue joy for ourselves. But perhaps we can find new strength when we realize how much it matters to God and to those around us.
Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and author, wrote:
For much of my life, I, like most people, regarded the pursuit of happiness as largely a selfish pursuit. One of the great revelations of middle age has been that happiness, far from being only a selfish pursuit, is a moral demand.
When we think of character traits we rightly think of honesty, integrity, moral courage, and acts of altruism. Few people include happiness in any list of character traits or moral achievements.
But happiness is both.
Happiness — or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one’s unhappiness on others — is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait.
With some exceptions, happy people make the world better and unhappy people make it worse.1
If being a happy person is a moral responsibility, how much more so is being a joyful person? Happiness skims the surface; joy is rooted in eternity. We are commanded to be joyful not merely for our own benefit but for the benefit of everyone else in our lives!
Choosing defiant joy in the midst of heartbreak is not an impossible choice.
Perhaps baby steps are all that are possible for you to take right now, each tentative foot moving toward the hope that Jesus will meet you in your sorrow and breathe life and joy slowly but ever so surely back into your heart. It is a choice that you make for your own heart. But it is a choice you ultimately make for the heart of God and the hearts of those you love.
Let love compel you.
7. Dennis Prager, “Happiness Is a Moral Obligation,” DennisPrager.com, February 20, 2007, http://www.dennisprager.com/happiness-is-a-moral-obligation/.
Excerpted with permission from Defiant Joy by Stasi Eldredge, copyright Stasi Eldredge.
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Are you in the middle of heartbreak? Are you unhappy? What do you do with that? What do those around you need from you? Come share with us about defiant joy on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily