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spreadjoyI’ve felt sad lately. Sad and angry. I watch the news and wonder if we will ever, ever figure out how to stop hurting one another. Advent is meant to be about longing, but I want to skip Advent and rush to Christmas because longing is messy and uncomfortable. We are yearning for the coming healing, we are hungry for the almost-but-not-yet Kingdom. On some days, especially recently, the Kingdom of God seems very far away.

As a follower of Jesus, uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger and longing eventually move me to prayer. Last Friday morning, I gathered with some dear friends and we prayed for our world, our leaders, our Church, our community and our children. We prayed we would not become cynical, we prayed we would be agents of the change we want to see in our world. We prayed for God to help us be brave and loving in a world teeming with fear and hatred. We prayed the same things for our children, primarily young adults who don’t remember a world before 9/11 and weekly mass shootings. We prayed God would show us the path to peace and empower us to lead the way for our communities and families. We prayed and then we planned. We vowed to continue our prayers with our feet, our hands, our voices, our money and our votes. Pray, and then DO.

Another thing I do when I am feeling sad and angry is go to church. Although there have been times in my life when church felt like the primary source of my anger and sadness, I keep showing up because I believe with all my heart Jesus is still there, even if I have to dig a little to find Him. I have sat in church full of anger. I have sat in church full of hurt. I have sat in church many, many times with tears running down my face. But whether I go full of pain or full of joy, every time I show up and listen, God shows up and speaks. In all its brokenness, I still believe in the Church as a source of good in the world. If you haven’t yet found a church that looks and sounds like Jesus, keep looking.

So yesterday, I went to church. Our pastor Tom shared some inspirational thoughts about finding joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. He reminded me of what I know to be true when I am feeling despair and sadness. Perhaps you will find these reminders empowering to you as well. Here are the three things we might consider doing when things seem dark and circumstances seem to be stealing our joy:

Watch and listen for what God is doing. When we become overwhelmed by difficult circumstances, we can become focused only on the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in front of us and it becomes all we can see. Yet, the deliverance or healing for which we are praying may have already begun. One of my favorite verses Jeremiah 29:13 says

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Every time I purposely, intentionally watch to see God in the circumstances around me, I see His hand at work. It might be a coincidental meeting, a fortitous phone call, a specific answer to prayer, a changed attitude in a person in my life or a word of encouragement from an unexpected source. Sometimes it might be as simple as hearing the words of a song that touch my heart right where I needed healing at exactly the right moment. When I watch and listen, I always find Him.

Be open to the Holy Spirit. This time of year, we have many, many strands of light working their magic and making our house a sparkly wonderland. What many who visit our home don’t see is the myriad of extension cords required to produce our light show. Simply put, the lights don’t work if they aren’t plugged in. Similarly, I find I have difficulty accessing the promised fruit of the Spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control- unless I too “plug in.” I think it is different for each of us, but I plug into the Holy Spirit through prayer, reading scripture, journaling, and spending with others who are seeking God. I plug in to the Holy Spirit by choosing to acknowledge I need God to help me be brave and love well. When I plug in, I have access to power greater than my own. When I don’t, I get overwhelmed by circumstances.

Bless people around you. Like many of us, I can get wrapped up in my own little world. When I am hurting and sad, I can become even more self-focused. While we certainly need to learn healthy ways to care for ourselves when we are hurting emotionally, sometimes the most healing thing we can do is to look up and look out. There are a whole bunch of people out there in need of the love we have to give. Finding ways to bless someone else reminds us we are connected to one another, members of the human family. We do not travel this journey alone. We need each other and we each have the capacity to provide encouragement to someone else. A listening ear, a kind word, and a warm smile are gifts when offered with nothing expected in return.

Here is the story Tom told about being a blessing to those around you (it’s only 3 minutes long…go on, click on it….you know you want to 🙂 ). You are going to love it! Watch this and then, if you like it, go watch the whole sermon.

Watch and listen for what God is doing. Be open to the Holy Spirit. Bless people around you. Pray, and then DO.

O come, O come Emmanuel!