It is said that the Bible references “joy” 430 times, while “happiness” is referenced only ten times. Not only are joy and happiness not the same, but there are people who apparently count this sort of thing! Happiness is a human emotion to a happy circumstance while joy, in the Bible, is a “gladness of the heart that comes from knowing, experiencing and trusting Jesus.” (Words of Faith, Hope, & Love Blog)
I’ve pondered the concept of “joy” recently since, in November, I broke a bone in my back. A crushed vertebrae caused my fairly active life to screech to a halt. A trip to Mexico was cancelled, boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations remained in storage, and I was unable to attend events and gatherings. I couldn’t do the simplest of tasks and temporarily moved in with a friend who lives in a one-story home since I couldn’t even climb a single stair. I literally did nothing for almost three months. James teaches us to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds. I was facing a trial. Consider it pure joy? Really? JOY?
If I'm honest, I wasn’t thinking joyful thoughts during my convalescence. But then again, I wasn’t thinking about much of anything. Pain and the inability to move forced me into, what turned out to be, a season of waiting. Waiting to feel better. Waiting to heal. Waiting to not have to wear a back brace. Waiting to drive. Waiting to be independent. Waiting for my life and circumstances to return to what they were before that fateful November day. But, it turns out, God didn’t intend for me to return to being what I was. He had other plans.
While I was lying around for Three. Long. Months., I wasn’t aware of all that was going on around me. The Word teaches us that “as we walk through the valley,” God is with us. Our time spent in the valley may seem bleak and dark but, inevitably, are times of learning and growing. A valley isn't intended to be a place where we stop. A valley is a place we pass through as we travel to the mountaintop where the view is clearer. Now that I’m at a place where I can look back, I am thankful to see how my trial allowed me to experience God in unexpected and wonderful ways. Although my situation was not an enjoyable one, God’s graciousness abounded. I’ll share two examples….
- God allowed me to experience the power of prayer. I broke my back in Everett, Washington and knew, the minute I hit the pavement, that I was hurt. Hurt, I thought, but not broken. I needed to drive home but could barely walk. In fact, I could not stand without being physically ill. In my stubbornness, I turned down friends’ offers to pick me up and drive my car and me home. Although stubborn, I realized I needed prayer, so I called on a group of friends at GPBC. On Sunday morning at 10:30 am, I got into the car to begin what can be a 4-6 hour drive home. As soon as I buckled up, the pain stopped. I had not been without excruciating pain for any of the prior 72 hours, but I was suddenly pain free. What I didn’t know then, was that after Don Westerberg’s Sunday school class ended that morning, one of the friends I asked to pray me home asked Don and his class to pray that I would get home safely that day. God allowed me to not only get home safely, but I felt so good on the drive home that I stopped half-way, got out of the car to stretch my back and took a short walk. I thought the pain in my back had somehow worked itself out and that I was okay! But, when I pulled into my garage, the pain began again in an instant- a huge spasm brought me to my knees and I could barely make it inside the house. The following day, I was diagnosed with a crushed vertebrae. Days later, when I learned Don and the class prayed for me, I realized that my being pain-free on the drive home was a miracle. God allowed me to experience the power of prayer and He graciously drove me home when I physically couldn’t drive.
- Next, I saw God work in an unexpected way! I was supposed to accompany a friend and her extended family on a Mexican vacation in early December, but a back brace and a bathing suit don’t make for a good match. Instead of basking on a beach in Mexico, my days were spent in bed trying to find a comfortable position. I often join my friend and her adult children on their family vacations to, as her kids jokingly say, keep my friend occupied and out of their (her kid’s) hair. I hate to brag, but it’s one job I’m quite good at! In a crazy turn of events (Praise God!), a member of my friend's family joined the group in my place. This individual had caused a family rift that had festered for over 20 years. But, because I stayed home and this individual took my place, communication within my friend’s family has begun. Walls of anger and hurt are being dissolved, misunderstandings are being righted, and the family is in the process of being restored.
I have been made aware of other unexpected things that happened in my life and other’s lives because of various circumstances surrounding my injury. Our difficult
situations, aka trials, can indeed produce good things and allow us to experience God in new ways. While I did nothing for three months, God moved mightily.
Did having a broken back bone bring me happiness? No. Did it allow me to experience joyfulness, in the biblical sense of the word? Yes! God knew what He was doing and what needed doing all along. The experience wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable one, but from my current vantage point, my heart is full of joy.
"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." James 1:2