This week I've been thinking about joy. And grace. I often think about grace, because it's a topic I'm totally passionate about. So this week my thoughts about grace have manifested themselves in thoughts about joy, and about how it's really hard to live a life of joy and freedom unless I'm living in grace. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (And yes, that was a reference to The Princess Bride. You're welcome)
In life, there are always ups and downs. There are times when everything seems to be going right, and times when it just...isn't. There are times when I look around at my life, my circumstances, my occupation, and think, "Yes. This is the life. This is right where I want to be," and times when I think, "How did I end up here?" Circumstances change. Goals and dreams change. If you had asked me five years ago where I thought I'd be, what my life might look like, in five years, I probably would not have described a scenario of constant chaos, chasing around a strong-willed four-year-old and a one-year-old with a heart problem (not that you would know that from his energy level. He makes me tired), pouring my heart into a couple of ministries that have a lot of potential but can definitely be described as struggling, still buried under a mountain of debt, still writing that same novel. I would have painted a glowing picture of my idea of success - in life, in motherhood, in business, in writing. Instead, the picture looks more like someone who struggles to get up before her kids in the morning. Who sometimes feels depressed, angry, discontent, frustrated with who she is, with what she feels she has accomplished, with her circumstances.
So what does this have to do with joy? Well, like I said, circumstances change. People change. I'm not the same person I was five years ago. I want different things. I've learned some things. And here's one of them: Joy isn't found in circumstances, but in what is constant, what doesn't change. No matter how my life shifts, how I change as a person, how many failures and frustrations I experience, God remains the same. His love remains the same. His grace is always there, making me into something I could never be on my own. Complete. Justified. Forgiven. Content. Joyful. In Christ.
The character of the Almighty, Most Holy God is a fascinating thing. He is both just and merciful. He is full of love, and full of wrath. He created humans to be pure and perfect, living eternally with Him, but allows us to follow our prideful hearts down a path of sin that leads to death and separation from Him. He created a code of behavior, called the Law, that He knew we could never live up to, but then grace entered the scene in the form of Jesus. The pure and perfect God-man, the only one who could live up to the Law and then sacrifice Himself on behalf of all humanity so that in one transaction, we can look to Him as the means of our salvation and be covered in His sinless, righteous perfection for all of eternity. This isn't God throwing His hands in the air and agreeing to overlook our faults because we'll never get it right. This is the judge taking on his own judgment. This is the executioner turning the axe on himself. This is God doing what I could never do, because He can. This is grace. This isn't about me. It's all about Him. My circumstances, my failures, my aches and pains that I complain about when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night, fade to nothing when I get just a glimpse of who God is and what His grace means. Grace means I can get up in the morning. Grace means I get to go on living even when I fail. Grace means I have a lifetime to share this good news with everyone I can on this earth, and then I get eternity with the grace-giver, to really get to know Him and maybe begin to understand His grace. When I start thinking about all that, I find joy. Deep, heady, delighted, excited, joy. There are many things in this world that make me happy, and just as many things can take away that happiness in an instant, but nothing can ever take God's grace from me, and nothing can ever take my joy.
Do you understand this? I hope so. I hope my meandering thoughts make a little sense to someone out there. As Christians, saved by God's amazing grace, we've got the market on joy. We really do. And yet too often we don't live it. We live sad little lives, afraid to have too much fun, afraid we might offend God with our inadequacies, afraid He'll zap us when we fail, afraid we'll ruin our reputations, miserable because we still can't live up to God's standard, even while we're trying to follow in His steps. Here's my advice: Quit trying and start living. Jesus gives us His life. Let's surrender our lives to Him, every moment of every day, set aside our pride, our desires, our agendas, our dreams, and offer the broken, empty vessels of our lives to Him, so that He can mend us and fill us to overflowing with the very grace He wants us to preach to the rest of the world. Does that sound easy? It's not. It's simple, but it's work. It's the best and the hardest work we'll ever do. It's what we were made for. I don't know about you, but for me, doing what I was made to do sure feels a lot like joy.