A New Year, a Constant Joy

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A bracing Arctic cold has locked us in ice. We flee indoors for warmth, but as clutter and dust accumulate, so does restlessness. As the minutes pile up, my mind turns inward. The world narrows.

I am eager to bid December 2017 goodbye. Apropos with the barren tree limbs clawing the frozen sky, this year has closed in unsettling notes. First was a crisis at church, which afflicted many of us with grief and doubt. How do you steer others in a steady faith, when your own is shaken?

Then, a few exhausting weeks with Pip culminated in a declaration, through tears, of, “Mum, I feel anxious all the time.” He lamented over loud noises, and crowds, and how when other kids sing “it sounds like screeching.” I realized his sensitivities penetrate far deeper than amusing idiosyncrasies; they catapult him into a continuous state of stress. The revelation pressed upon my heart like lead, and my own tears soaked his cheek as I held him and rocked.  We need help for him. But how, and from whom? How do we avoid misdiagnosis, when sensory processing disorder didn’t make the most recent version of the DSM? How do I bear the burdens of mother, educator, and now psychologist and occupational therapist?  God, please, how do I do this?

Atop that, the usual strains of the holiday season — a time when we should anticipate our Lord’s coming, and revel in God’s goodness — closed in. Gifts became an obligation, rather than an issuing of love. Pettiness, criticism, and fear eroded away joy. The trappings of Christmas, with its peppermint aromas, incandescent lights, and evergreen splendor, felt perfunctory, rather than celebratory.

In the midst of it all, despair seeped in, its black fingers scrawling icily along my veins. I awoke each day dreading the moment something would go awry — because something always did. Movements felt sluggish. The mundane seemed impossible. My life, it seemed, was awash, a fleeting burst of energy and light now wasted on bitterness and worry. Daily I searched for joy; nightly, I collapsed exhausted, bereft, and empty.

I turned to Philippians 4 to help Pip. In my homeschooling mom mode, I sought to guide him in the Word through his own clearly articulated experience with anxiety (“You know, when you feel afraid, and really tired, and just don’t feel good?”). I strained to serve God in my role, even while in everything I felt ineffective.

As I read the words, they struck my own heart like a firebolt through the dark.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

The world will always fail us. It cannot keep its promises. It cannot secure hope. It will betray; it will overwhelm; it will numb us with drudgery.  It is broken, and we are broken, and life will not accede to our carefully-crafted plans. The ice will come. The bulbs will burn out. The tears will fall.

When our joy depends on our circumstances, it never stays. It loses its footing, and tumbles downstream. It dissipates in a puff of vapor, even while we reach for it with fingers splayed wide in the empty air.

Through Christ alone, God offers us a joy that lasts. Through the Spirit, he builds within us a deep well from which we draw living water when our lives wither and crack. He alone brings peace. He alone guards our hearts and minds, so that when the tempests churn, and the bleakness descends, we stay afloat, and cling to the joy we know.

I lost sight of His sovereign goodness, and his wonderful peace, this December. With the Word steeling my mind, I now regard the landscape encased in white, and see the sunlight spilling across the waiting snow. I feel the warmth that burns even through the frigid cold. I cannot see every divot or bend in the path ahead, but guided by the light that overcomes all shadow (John 1:5), I know we are safe. I know that joy is not contingent upon my success or failings. It rests not upon my own broken foundations, but rather issues forth from the One who made heaven and earth, who has triumphed even over death. (Ps 121:2, 2 Tim 1:10)  I know we have a hope like no other, crafted before the world began, enveloped in His undying love.

My prayer this New Year, is that we may look past our paltry strivings, and open the floodgates to the joy that surpasses all understanding. May we loosen our grip upon the world, and lean into the peace that persists, and the hope that burns, even when the days seem to trudge forward interminably, even when we ache for respite from the dark cold. Even when desolation locks us in its grasp, the naked branches teetering in the wind, we have a joy that stays. In Jesus Christ, we have a living hope that spurs us on.

 

 

12 Comments Add yours

  1. mmatson4 says:

    This so resonates with my current experience and feelings. So thankful for the Rock upon which we stand. Thank you for articulating this so beautifully.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you, and may God bless and keep you

      Like

  2. dtgreen1 says:

    Katie you are a constant joy and a source of strength and encouragement to me. I can’t ever hope to know what you go through but I know in whom your hope lies. Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    David

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      I’m so grateful to God for your friendship and witness, David.

      Like

  3. “Through Christ alone, God offers us a joy that lasts. Through the Spirit, he builds within us a deep well from which we draw living water when our lives wither and crack. He alone brings peace. He alone guards our hearts and minds, so that when the tempests churn, and the bleakness descends, we stay afloat, and cling to the joy we know.”

    This is very well written. Thank you for your honest, encouraging words and may God continue to embolden and guide in the weeks and months ahead. – Nate

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you Nate. Blessings to you!

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  4. MullinPonder says:

    Thank you Katie. So much of this beautifully written post resonates with me also. Your first paragraph drew me in – we have a long hard Winter also, which is difficult for those of us who suffer from depression. Thank you for the Scripture-based encouraging words.
    My heart goes out to your little boy and your responsibility to raise him strong but tender.
    Love to you through Our Great and Gentle Shepherd.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much. I pray our Lord will enfold you with his love during these long and dark winter days. Blessings to you.

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  5. SallyTP says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am just looking for reminders and truth in what seems like a bleak winter un my very soul.

    Thanks.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      I will pray for you, Sally, that the darkness may dwindle away soon.

      Like

  6. Bea says:

    Hi Katie, I read your article on Desiring God, If God doesn’t heal you. What encouragement! Thank you. So I followed a link to your site and started reading. First thing I read is about your son having anxiety. So I thought I would share an easy fix that has helped my anxiety tremendously. Magnesium Oil. Taking a tablet doesn’t always help, but mag oil used on our skin allows our body to absorb it and it has been a miracle for me. I don’t sell it or anything just use it. And when ever I see or hear of someone who struggles with anxiety I share my story. Your article on Desiring God was a great comfort to me. I have RA. God is showing me how to rejoice in my sufferings and to delight in Him. I am so blessed.So thankful for the internet and the many people God uses to encourage me and help me to press on.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much Bea! May God draw you nearer to himself, even as you endure trials and suffering. Many blessings to you and yours.

      Like

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