How can we have joy when some issues in our life will not ever change? How can one live in such deep pain and still experience joy?
People who hear my story tell me that my personality and countenance do not match my past history. I have a horrific story of severe physical and sexual abuse and yet I do not wear it. People comment that I seem so joyful, gentle, and peaceful. Most times I experience myself in those ways too. I have learned that there is so much more to my life than the pain that has existed and still occasionally rises to the surface.
Let’s look at one definition of joy:
1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: DELIGHT (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
What really popped out to me was, “the prospect of possessing what one desires.”
The word prospect is the act of looking forward, anticipation, vision. It is a word that describes future, not necessarily the here and now. When I put my focus on my circumstances, I have a very difficult time looking with anticipation to the future.
Joy does not always include displaying the happiness that one thinks of when they initially think of the word joy. It has many more facets than that. I can have internal joy and yet feel extreme sadness at the same time. Embracing joy does not mean the absence of pain but the assurance of a source outside of my humanness that is an anchor for my soul.
My joy was birthed when I truly believed that Jesus Christ was my friend, Savior, guide, forgiver, redeemer. Having Jesus as the predominant source for me to run to in pain has offered me a hope that I could not have manufactured within myself. Knowing that my pain was always known to Him, that He never took His eyes off me even in the darkest of times.
It also became apparent when I realized that God could use my pain to help others who have suffered in similar ways that I have.
I want to share with you part of the process I went through to come to the place where I began moving into the place of joy.
-I found I could not experience joy by living in a passive state of hopelessness. It was so easy for me to get stuck there but God was calling me out of that pit of despair and into a much brighter future. It took courage on my part to want to move through my pain rather than avoid it. I found I could not do this alone. With the help of an experienced trauma counselor, and developing a strong support system who challenged me to move forward when they saw me becoming stuck in my grief, I was able to have the courage to move forward. There was nothing easy about this and it took time, in fact, years for me to move forward.
-Many times when I seemed to be stuck I found that I was focusing on the lies that held me emotionally hostage. The lies that my abusers fed me were death words and they were powerful and seemed so real to me. The life words that my counselors and others in my support system fed me were hopeful even though I found it hard to believe them. I had to begin trusting them instead of the people who were out to hurt me. As I began to identify truth and hang onto it, the brighter my mind was and hope of joy was becoming more distinctive.
-Another practical thing I did when I was feeling overwhelmed was to look at the circumstances and things that I was grateful for. I had to change my focus from my past hell to the present and all the gifts the present had for me. Not living in an abusive environment was just one thing that caused me to be grateful. I had the blessings of new friends, family, and a loving God. I had my basic necessities met, food, shelter, and clothes. These were all things I truly focused on when the gray clouds began looming over me. Coffee also made it on my gratitude list!!
-I needed to deal with my people-pleasing tendencies and also ask others for the things I needed instead of constantly worrying about what everyone around me needed. I wanted everyone to like me and I wanted to rescue those who were in pain. That was an easy distraction from dealing with my own issues. I have better learned to set boundaries around my emotional involvement into other’s issues.
-Perhaps the most profound experience I had that moved me closer to joy was in the area of forgiveness. I had to learn to forgive those who had purposefully and maliciously abused me. That took a lot of soul-searching and reading on my part to discover just what forgiveness was and how to implement it in my own life. Again it meant not denying, minimizing, or trying to go around the pain. I had to accept the past and forgive those involved before I could let go of it. Once I did forgive, I experienced a joy and freedom that I did not think was possible.
Joy came for me as I made the present my focus and not my past. It took me to the place where I saw myself as a woman who was free and capable of moving forward. It took one day at a time, and it took me to the place where I realized I could not isolate myself any longer.
What is your joy dependent on? Your circumstances, your emotions, the lies about yourself that you believe? If you allow those to be my determining factor then joy will always be on the horizon and not become a part of your life.
Ginger Taddeo, was a victim of childhood sexual and physical abuse for ten years. She now writes and speaks sharing hope with others who have suffered. Ginger is also involved with the ministry Freedom Challenge which is an organization that rescues women and children from human trafficking. She has been married for 35 years and has two grown, married children.