Many of you walked with me through my breast cancer journey the last two years, and I’m still so filled with gratitude for the support you offered. Even now I vividly remember my response when a mammogram revealed cancer: There is no way that is what I just heard. It was surreal.
Yet, when the initial numbness wore off, I had an aha moment. Literally six weeks before my diagnosis, I had released my 60-day devotional Find Joy. For many months, I’d been writing and speaking about finding joy no matter our circumstances. Suddenly, the lessons I had learned in writing my collection of devotionals offered an on-ramp for me to find joy in my own trial. I found such grace and mercy in that.
Still, if most of us are honest, this familiar Bible verse is tough medicine:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kind because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
(James 1:2-4, NIV)
I am happy to report that follow-up visits continue to confirm my treatment was successful and I remain cancer-free. But I am joyful to report that during that season – even though it was stressful and even though I still live with side effects from treatment – the James verse really has come alive in my life.
Now, just to be clear: I am definitely not 100% mature and complete – just ask Jeff or my kids! But I have seen very personally that external trials are often the gateway to a very important internal journey. A journey toward becoming mature … complete … joyful. Even in some very real storms.
Just last week I was speaking on the topic of finding joy instead of anxiety at a popular convention for young moms – a group with one of the highest levels of anxiety around. I shared several practical, transformational habits from Find Joy that jump out from both science and scripture. But I realize they all start with some essential mindset shifts. So let’s look at four of them – four mindset shifts that make all the difference to being able to find peace and even joy in the storm.
Mindset shift #1: Expect that trials are going to come
One of my team members told me recently that the first bible verse she ever memorized was “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).
You know where she was when she memorized it? A doctor’s office. The verse was hanging on a plaque on the wall, and she was awaiting news that could have been really bad. As she sat in that patient room, nervously swinging her legs underneath the examination table, she got her phone out and read the context of the verse.
Jesus had just told his best friends that their grief would turn to joy – and that this reality would be a source of peace for them. And then he guaranteed that they would have trouble.
When we understand that trials and troubles are part of life (yes, even the Christian life) they won’t throw us off our game. We’ll realize they are the game.
Mindset shift #2: Realize those trials come even when we’re doing everything we should do!
Today I’m getting pretty personal, but I’ll be honest: My breast cancer diagnosis did not hammer my faith as hard as when my son was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 11. We suffered with him while he spent his middle school years re-training his brain how to read.
It was humbling and hard for him, and it was excruciating for me to watch my son suffer. I questioned God, wrestled with the incredible trial shoved into our family, and cried innumerable tears. Sometimes, I still do.
But I’ve also been learning about God’s peace in the storm. Because in this broken world, some storms will come regardless of how much we are following Him. When I wrote the Find Peace devotional for moms, I realized what the disciples were probably thinking as they headed out to cross the Sea of Galilee at night – something the seasoned fishermen in their ranks would never normally do because the topography of the area often led to violent squalls. But Jesus is with us, they probably thought, so nothing bad will happen. In fact, they had just come off a day of doing productive ministry, so they probably didn’t think a storm should happen.
So when it did, they were shocked and a little angry with Jesus. To paraphrase Mark 4:38: “Why is he sleeping? Doesn’t he care that we’re about to drown after doing His ministry all day and going where He told us to?”
I suspect most of us are the same. When we are trying to follow Him, something in us feels like storms “shouldn’t” happen. But that storm – and many other types of trouble – happened when Jesus and His followers were exactly where they were supposed to be.
In my own cancer diagnosis on the heels of the release of Find Joy, I was reminded that we owe God everything and He owes us nothing. If we have given our lives to Him, our lives are not our own. But our heavenly Father is also so loving and gracious, that this isn’t the end of the story. Yes, He paid an incomprehensible price for us to have an eternal future with Him. But He also wants us to have abundant life, joy and peace now —and has given us a path to get there (John 10:10).
Mindset shift #3: Realize the path to peace is often paved in baby steps
Sometimes the storms we endure move fast. But sometimes they require a longer road to healing. Recently a Christian neuropsychologist addressed this with a friend of mine in a way that I think is profound. She has dealt her whole adult life with the mental health consequences of childhood sexual and emotional trauma, and she was going through a particularly rough patch at the moment.
The doctor basically said, and I’m paraphrasing, that someone with a trauma background should be living life in “bite-sized pieces.” I think that advice is helpful for anyone who wrestles with finding peace in the storm. While the principle of trusting God with the future is good, it can also be overwhelming. We may wonder, as my friend did, How can I trust God with the storms in my future? This Christian neuropsychologist recommended simply looking at each anxiety-inducing thing individually. What’s coming up TODAY that we need to trust God with?
Because when we trust God one-by-one with the immediate things, trusting God with the bigger picture will get easier.
I could almost hear my friend exhale. “That means on a night when I’m feeling especially scared, all I have to do is trust God to get me through the night,” she told me. “That made a lot of sense to me. That’s something I think I can do.”
Mindset shift #4: Realize that storms are where we grow
I don’t know why our son had to go through epilepsy or I had to fight cancer – or why you’ve had to face the hard things you’ve had to face. Maybe you’re even in a battle right now.
But I do know this. Storms are where we grow.
We don’t always see our muscles developing in real time. In fact, when I wrote about my son’s journey through the realities of epilepsy, I admitted we wouldn’t have chosen that trial. But we also wouldn’t trade the joy of the enormous victory we’ve seen our son achieve. (As those of you who follow the blog know, he graduated high school last May with honors!)
What Jesus once told his best friends really is true. Grief does yield to joy. We really can experience peace in the hard things of life.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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