Are you facing a difficult season, in which answered prayers seem distant, and joy is scarce? Does God seems far away? Maybe you’re facing a health crisis, or maybe your arms ache for a precious child. Maybe your family is struggling, and paychecks are stretched thin—or are non-existent altogether. Does it seem as though everyone arounds you exudes joy and abundance, but you’re parched, awaiting deliverance? I don’t have all the answers; but I do know this—you are not alone. God sees. God knows, and you are not forgotten.
When hope has seemed elusive in my own life, here are several ways God has helped me battle for joy when homeschooling through unanswered prayers.
Consider Limiting Social Media Consumption
“Comparison”, wisely said Theodore Roosevelt, “is the thief of joy.” When you’re struggling with lack, feeding your mind with images of excess isn’t always healthy. Social media tends to be full of photos of smiling people,
- posing in front of real estate signs,
- holding up newborn babies,
- pouring over stacks of brand-new curriculum, or
- going on vacation.
There’s nothing wrong with each of these shares on their own, but focusing on them can serve to accentuate what we might not have. When we are struggling with unanswered prayers, keeping with several hundred varieties of Joneses might not be the best use of our time—or emotions.
This is not a blanket condemnation; social media can be used for good. The internet can provide fellowship over the miles, and connections to like-minded souls. And snapping photos of beautiful corners and joy-filled moments keeps my eyes and my heart practicing gratitude, seeking out the positive in the melee of my messy life.
It’s good to look for beauty amongst the mundane; it’s good to hold on to hope. We can model redemption in this way. But a constant diet of other people’s glimmering moments can leave our hearts limp and discontented.
Actively and Intentionally Focus on Gratitude
When we actively give thanks, something wonderful happens in our hearts. Our perspective is shifted from looking inward to looking upward, and joy begins to take root. “Let them give thanks to the Lord,” instructs the psalmist in Psalm 107:8, “for His unfailing love.” Even when we have nothing, we have His unfailing love. And counting our blessings opens our eyes to dozens—if not hundreds—of other forgotten gifts.
Ask God to Grant You Joy
When you’re not the one whose heart is breaking, when your arms are full, it is easy to recite, “You have not because you ask not.” But what about when you keep asking—
- for the job,
- for the move,
- for healing,
- for restoration,
- for the infertile womb to be opened again
—and you still do not see the materialization of your heart’s desire?
What about when the only certainty is uncertainty? Or when you know in your heart your prayers are incense, rising up (Revelation 8:4), but your head still doesn’t hear a thing, straining though it does for the small voice in the stillness?
What about then?
When you know God can do it, when you’ve even seen His blazing glory before, but He’s choosing to conceal His effulgent light now—that’s when you don’t stop asking, but you also ask for joy.
You also ask for contentment.
You also ask for perseverance, for grace, for courage.
That’s when you stand in the kitchen with your hands plunged into the soapy water, tears streaming down your face, and you say—Oh Lord, give me joy.
“Joy,” said Corrie ten Boom, “runs deeper than despair.” (A survivor of the Holocaust, she knew a thing or two about despair.)
So, my friends, even when our storehouses aren’t full (Habakkuk 3:17-19) and our arms ache and our heart aches, let’s turn to Psalms and affirm, yes, Lord, yes, “You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine abound.” (Psalm 4:7)
This is the challenge, isn’t it? It’s our calling to rise above it all and embrace Jesus and keep on living joyously, even when His ways do not look like ours, and even when He’s not answering prayers the way we want Him to.
But how does that look in reality—in real, messy, authentic life?
Just Do the Next Thing
The Christian life is lived in out in the daily grind; not in the milestones, not on the mountain tops, not even in the answered prayers. The Christian life is lived in out
- in obedience,
- in perseverance,
- in faithfulness, and
- in continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
In fact, a faithful life looks a lot like ordinary daily life.
Christian author Elisabeth Elliot, whose husband Jim Elliot was among those missionaries tragically killed in in Ecuador, was an avid proponent of the advice quoted in an old medieval poem, “Do the next thing.” Throughout her life, she referred to this phrase often.
In the moments when we are most helpless and most powerless to effect change, we can obey that simple directive, can’t we? We can do the next thing. In fact, doing the next thing is our act of worship. In times of uncertainty, doing the next thing is the most sacred, most hallowed act we can offer, both to our families and to our Lord.
We may not be able to
- secure employment for our husband,
- heal a chronic condition,
- materialize employment out of thin air,
- open a closed womb, or
- repair a broken home,
but we can do the next thing.
- hug the ones closest to us,
- sweep the floor,
- make the beds,
- sing aloud,
- wipe out the sink,
- fold laundry,
- wash dishes,
- dictate a spelling list,
- chop vegetables,
- read aloud,
- teach a math lesson,
- run errands,
- pick up toys,
- clean the bathroom,
and a myriad of other selfless, seemingly-mundane tasks.
Hold Fast to Your Hope
These tasks, my sweet friends, are as rich an offering as gold, frankincense, or myrrh. It is in God-focused perseverance where joy is to be found, even in the dry seasons were there is no oasis, and all is parched. God will meet you there, in the kitchen, in the laundry room—for these places are holy, hallowed, high ground.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,” writes the prophet Habakkuk in chapter three,
“And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.”
Friends, won’t you partake of the Lord’s joy and strength during this difficult season, and join me—in simply doing the next thing?