Choosing Gratitude and Joy

I’ve been surprised by something recently that I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by: circumstances don’t automatically produce joy. Last month I married the most wonderful man I’ve ever known, who loves me in a deeper and more beautiful way than I ever even dreamed of being loved. We married in one of the most gorgeous churches I’ve ever been in, surrounded by dear friends and family on a snow-covered but sunny Winter’s day in Massachusetts. We are so compatible and have a really beautiful relationship built on a very solid foundation. We’ve been together well over a year now, and he is my absolute best friend. Sharing life with him is such a gift, and married life has been bliss so far. I live in a beautiful location right outside NYC, in a really incredible community that has been so gracious and welcoming to me as I have adjusted to life here the last few months. The lovely chapel here is right around the corner from my apartment and has so many enriching church services in which to participate. My job, too, is great. I was hired right after I moved to New York to work with students at a nearby college, and if I had designed the perfect job for this season in my life, I don’t think it would have been as good of a situation for me as this job. My circumstances at the moment are the best they have ever been. I don’t say all these things for any reason other than to say: even with all of that being true, I can still forget to be joyful and grateful.

For most of my life I have had a feeling that something was lacking. When I hit my teen years, the books I was reading told me that God had a love story He wanted to write for me that just required me to wait. I came to view God as matchmaker, and as the years went on and no love story came about for me, I felt deep down like He was depriving me of something He owed me somehow.

I knew this was something I couldn’t keep burying but that I had to let surface so I could heal from it and move on. One day I was praying and reading Scripture and began to process that shallow view of Him I had held for so long, along with the anger I felt from it. I kept thinking of when Jesus talked about God being a good Father who delighted in giving His children good gifts. He said “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matthew 7: 9). I remember praying my frustration and saying to God “But I don’t feel like you’ve given me a stone, I feel like you’ve held bread in front of my hungry face and never actually given it to me.” A new thought immediately came to me: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness.” I didn’t understand it and could not remember where that line was from, though. I looked up the phrase and realized it was from John 6:31. I turned there and felt myself in line with the people asking for signs as I read. When Jesus replied telling them of the True Bread from Heaven and they said “Lord, give us this bread always”, Jesus’ reply of “I am the Bread of Life…” shook me to my core. He was not a withholding Father taunting me with bread I couldn’t eat; He had always been constantly offering me Himself, and I had been saying “…but I want something else.” I felt such sorrow over that realization.

Nearly five years have gone by now, and I have learned so much about His Presence and how the spiritual life is a journey deeper into Him. He did end up leading me to marry, and it, as I had hoped it would be, is wonderful. In my immaturity, I still thought somehow that I would just automatically switch into some kind of joy and gratitude mode once I had the life I wanted. I have realized something instead though: my heart has for years had a default posture of discontentment that it goes back to unless I consciously choose the posture of joy and gratitude.

That feeling that something is lacking has been so deeply ingrained in me that, even when nothing is lacking, I revert back to it. This has been such a humbling lesson, and it is one I will likely always be learning. I know I will always be delving deeper into the joyous mystery of His constant Presence, and that is a thought I hope never ceases to increase my sense of wonder. My life circumstances do not define my joy and gratitude; the way I see the world needs to change so I have eyes that see Him surrounding me and offering Himself to me at all times. My heart has to be trained to default to joy. Granted, it is easier now than ever before to find things to be grateful for and joyful about, but it is still something I have to wake up each day and remind myself to choose. His Presence is still the ultimate source of Joy. I know there will be times ahead when my circumstances will be more difficult than now, and that I will also have to choose gratitude and joy those days of also facing sorrow and pain. No matter my circumstances, He is still there offering me Himself, the True Bread of Heaven, and that is the greatest joy. May He give us all eyes to see Him everywhere.

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