When Joy seems elusive

Roughly a year ago, I wrote about The Very Best Thing. Back then, the Gospel — that glorious truth that we’ve all rebelled against God but that He’s loved us, brought us home, and rescued us from hell and from ourselves — had come alive for me in a way I’d never experienced. Joy was everywhere and I was practically giddy as I considered how God had come near. Does everyone know about this?! I wondered. They should! It was better than anything I could dream up, which is saying a lot, considering what a hyperactive imagination I have!

Fast forward to December 2015 and I’m not feeling so rainbows-and-unicorns-y. No great tragedy has befallen me. No dramatic life changes have happened. I’m at the same job, in the same apartment, going to the same church. I’ve made a few friends. I’ve been on a few dates. I’ve laughed until I’ve cried and cried until all the Kleenex was gone and I had to move on to toilet paper because I KEEP IT CLASSY around here. All very Normal and Regular rhythms of life.

But I feel off. I don’t feel joy or giddy and I’m afraid. Have I lost hold of the Gospel already? I know its truth in my head but the rest of me seems apathetic. Bored, almost. I tell myself that maybe it’s just that the honeymoon is over, that now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty, everyday, mundane part of being a Christian. Faith is not built on feelings, after all. Sometimes it is a plodding along.

And yet, that Joy. I am desperate for it, especially now, at Advent. For the wonder and the thrill of knowing God, the One who put the stars and Kansas sunsets in place and fashioned creatures like manatees and penguins and ants and us. I want to marvel that He would love me, to take to heart and be blown away by this Good News. The psalmist says to “Delight yourself in the Lord,” (Psalm 37:4) and I am frantic to do that. I pray in a panic. Scold myself for not reading my Bible more. List and confess all the wrongs I can think of. Contemplate how I can Give More or Do More or Be Better so I can get that Joy back.

Nothing works. I’m still listless.

And then it hits me: I can’t do anything. 

It hits me again: I can’t, and that is the Gospel. There is absolutely, literally nothing I can do to Be Good. I might be able to fake my way at being Halfway Decent for a short time at best, but when left to my own devices, I’ll revert to my Haughty and Proud and Entitled self. I’ll acknowledge with my mouth and my brain that Jesus’ blood is sufficient for all of my Not Goodness, but my heart and my actions will tell the true story: that I want to bring something to the table, too.

But I can’t. The Gospel says there’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. There’s no act of righteousness we can perform to make God go, “Yes, this looks like a good one. Pretty holy. Donates money to the right organizations. Is polite to rude people. Has read the entire Old Testament, even Obadiah, very impressive. Prays for hours every week. I’ll take that one.” This is not like online dating. God doesn’t love and save us based on the good we’ve done, on criteria we’ve met, on a sparkling introductory paragraph, on the right selfies taken at juuuuuust the right angle.

He loves and saves us because … He loves and saves us. He doesn’t love us because we’re awesome. He loves us because He’s awesome. To paraphrase Sally Lloyd-Jones, we are lovely because He loves us.

It’s offensive, isn’t it? To be told that, essentially, what I think of as my good works and good deeds are not good enough and never will be. How dare someone tell me that what I do isn’t good enough? That strikes at the very core of who I am. People have spent thousands of dollars in therapy for lesser reasons. I had a pastor once who said that our deepest question is, “Am I enough?” The Gospel says “no,” and it’s devastating.

And so, so relieving. Because “no” is not the final answer. It’s, “No, but God …But God loves me. But God made a way. But God looks at Jesus’ Goodness and counts it as mine. How? By looking at my Badness and counting it as Christ’s and putting it and Him to death (But God does not let death have the final say!). I have absolutely nothing to bring to the table, But God has prepared the feast. I am not a good person, But God is merciful and loved me first. Because of Jesus — and only because of Him — I’m counted as Good. I didn’t even have to do anything! Like a good Husband and Provider, He has taken care of all of it. All of it.

I gasp now in wonder and think to myself, Here is joy. 

It’s offensive. It’s amazing. It’s the Gospel. It is Joy.

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