My alarm blares every morning as I reach to slap the snooze button one more time and tell Alexa to just stop already. (Yes, I set multiple alarms.) I drag myself out of bed after an embarrassing number of snooze slaps and groan as Alexa recites the weather and my day’s schedule.
I’ve been in a funk lately. OK, I’ve been in a funk pretty much all year. Can you relate? As I was contemplating this month’s theme of joy and the various directions I could go with it, I wondered how I could write about a topic that has been missing from my heart for way too long. I started with a word study and a comparison of joy and happiness. But my words looked dry and dusty and the furthest thing from joy.
So I abandoned the pedantic approach and tried the commentary angle. As I waded through my favorite commentaries on a beloved passage of Scripture—Psalm 16—I found my mind wandering and wondering how that method would benefit someone struggling to find joy amid the dirty dishes, the endless meetings, and the inbox overflowing with urgent messages.
Finding Our Way Back to Joy
Then I decided to focus on how to feel the joy of the Lord, especially during this season that may tend to feel more sorrowful than joyful. After all, how can we sing “Joy to the World” when our world feels broken and too busy?
Instead of listing all the possible reasons we could feel down and depressed, let’s focus on how to find our way back to joy.
Psalm 16:11 tells us where we’ll find joy: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (ESV).
That’s it. If we’re running around looking for joy, we need look no further than sitting at the feet of Jesus. How? Let’s look at some practical things we can do to increase our joy factor.
1. Pray. I don’t mean just the quick, standard mealtime prayer or a bedtime laundry list of what we want God to do. I mean we need to quiet our surroundings (as much as possible) and quiet our minds (that’s harder) and pour out our hearts to God.
Tell him all your woes and worries. Tell him how distant you feel from him. Sometimes just getting it all out of your head is the first step toward feeling better. If you’re so dry that you can’t come up with the words to pray, remember that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t pray: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26 ESV).
Pray the words of Scripture, especially the Psalms. David wrote many laments in which he asked God why and how long his life was going to be miserable. Here’s a helpful article on how to pray like David did with some specific psalms listed.
2. Stay anchored in God’s Word—even when you don’t feel like it. The only way to experience the comfort of Scripture is to have it in your heart. The only way to hide Scripture in your heart is to read it every single day. Even listening to it while you drive or walk will help. Occasionally when I can’t sleep, I play the psalms on my phone at a low volume until I fall asleep. The YouVersion Bible app on my phone will play the Bible audibly in certain Bible versions. Check it out.
When you feel discouraged or defeated, deliberately recall encouraging verses that you’ve read. Post Scripture around your house; write it on sticky notes attached to your computer screen; set a verse as your lock screen on your phone—just get the Word into your mind and heart. God promises us mercy when we keep his Law:
“Let your steadfast love comfort me
according to your promise to your servant.
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight” (Psalm 119:76-77 ESV).
- Write out Scripture verses by hand. Choose one or two encouraging verses or verses on joy and write them out in your prayer journal. This forces your mind to slow down and focus on the actual words you’re writing. Writing by hand also puts information into your long-term memory faster and more efficiently than other methods (even more than typing on the computer or on your phone—that’s a bonus benefit from a former educator).
- Journal. For those who are writers, this may come a bit more naturally, although writing about feelings can be different. Just free write whatever comes to mind or whatever flows through your pen, knowing that no one else will ever read it. Then take a look at what you’ve written. Chances are, you’ll uncover some adverse thought patterns. Make a list down the left side of your page of all those negative feelings. Then on the right beside each feeling, look for and write out a Scripture truth that combats those pesky feelings. Remember, feelings are not facts, no matter how much they leak out the corners of our eyes.
- Preach truth to yourself. You can renew your mind as Paul instructs:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV).
3. Focus on one unhelpful thought pattern at a time. Make yourself aware of it then train yourself to replace that negative thought with a correlating positive concept. Write these things down and make a conscious effort to retrain your brain one thought at a time. I found Caroline Leaf’s book Switch on Your Brain to be very helpful in this process. Be patient with yourself; it takes time and a lot of effort. Don’t give up!
- Talk to a friend or make an appointment with a biblical counselor. Keeping all the sad inside won’t make it magically turn into joy. In fact, pretty much the opposite will happen. The sad will multiply and make the joy feel even more impossible. Trusted friends often provide the perspective we need to see the truth. Counselors can help point out faulty thought patterns and help us compose go-to scripts for reminding ourselves of God’s truth.
- Confess your sins. Perhaps your depression is caused by unconfessed sin. Spend time asking God to search your heart and to show you anything that you need to confess. Ask God to forgive you: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV).
- Practice gratitude. Every day has something for which to be grateful. I keep a small notebook on my bedside table and try to write at least three things for which I’m thankful every evening before I go to bed—even something as minute as seeing a pretty flower on my walk.
Will following these steps automatically turn that frown upside down? No. Nothing in life is as fast as the Chick-fil-A drive-thru line. But these steps will help you begin your journey back to joy, so you can sing “Joy to the World” and mean it during this coming Christmas season.