Jesus was not born like royalty. His mother was no one of significance, just a teenage girl. He wasn't even born in a house. He came into the world in a dark, musty stable. The witnesses of his birth were livestock, not kings and princes. Yet, even with such a humble and unremarkable entrance into the world, there was reason for joy throughout all the earth. The Savior of all mankind was finally here. Joy to the world!
But the fullness of mankind's joy was not accomplished in Jesus' birth. No, the real cause of celebration didn't come until three decades later when He hung on a cross for sins He didn't commit to pay a penalty He didn't owe to give a gift that no one deserves. This sacrifice, though not what one would expect could cause joy, is what rattled the gates of hell and paved the way for ushering in a crescendo of rejoicing that has no equal in history. But how could death be the path to rejoicing? Because Jesus Christ did not stay in the grave.
Joy burst forth from that cold tomb. On the third day after Jesus was crucified, He was raised up and made alive. God accepted His perfect sacrifice and made Him alive forevermore! This truth is what is at the heart of why we sing Joy to the World. We don't celebrate only a baby. We don't rejoice only over the merciful sacrifice Jesus made for our sin. We sing for joy because our King is alive!
The pathway to joy is rarely what we envision. We tend to think joy comes when our circumstances make us happy. But joy exists on a much deeper level than the superficial pursuit of momentary ease or comfort. Joy is a state of mind that transcends circumstance; it resides in a soul that is a peace with God and walking in His light. Joy can never be stolen by circumstance.
Joy is rarely spoken of in conjunction with recovery from addiction. We speak of sobriety, peace, integrity and all other sorts of good outcomes. But it doesn't seem like joy could be a natural fit for recovery. Recovery is hard, grueling, painful. How could such a journey produce joy? Maybe the same way that resurrection can only come after one has died.
Did you know that Jesus was focused on joy when He carried His cross to His own crucifixion?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis mine)
There is much suffering in recovery. Yes, there is also much healing. But it is painful to uncover lies, face deep shame in your soul, and learn to say no to that which you have always said yes. Sadly, many are so overwhelmed and consumed by the painful seasons of recovery that they fail to see the joy that comes for those who endure. Joy is just around the corner! If you will only fix your eyes on Jesus, the One who showed us how to endure suffering with strength and resolve for what comes after the pain.
But how do you focus on joy in the middle of all the chaos and pain of recovery? Here are some helpful tips.
1. Pain is temporary.
No matter how difficult and painful your recovery is, it will not last forever. Life on planet earth is temporary, therefore everything in it is as well. The old phrase "this too shall pass" can be helpful when facing a particularly difficult season of recovery (especially the first year). Not that time alone is what heals or brings about joy, but it is important to remember that no circumstance remains static forever.
The key to dealing well with the pain of recovery and remaining focused on the joy that lies ahead is to learn from the pain. Don't just try to run through it, or run away from it; that is no different than addiction. Instead, like Jesus, engage the pain with purpose. Then, when you come out on the other side, you will have joy -- and insights to pass along to others in recovery.
2. Where you are going is better than where you have been.
When you understand that recovery is not only moving you away from what has been unhealthy, but also moving you toward what is healthy, you can see the light (of joy) at the end of the tunnel. There is increased hope as you keep pressing forward in the step-by-step process of healing and growth.
Recovery is not about replacing one coping system with another. It is about setting you free from "coping" altogether. It's about living the abundant life Jesus promises--and living it to the full! That is a much better place to live than where addiction leads. And because recovery is moving you toward such a place of freedom, you can experience greater joy the further you travel its path.
3. God's love is permanent.
You will have moments, maybe even seasons, of failure on the recovery road. Sometimes this can seem overwhelming, even impossible to overcome. But God's love for you never wavers. He doesn't love based on your performance. He loves based on His character. And God is love! (1 John 4:8)
Feelings are fickle, and too often we place ourselves on a yo-yo of self-worth based on them. If we feel good, we assume God loves us more. If we feel bad, we think God hates us, or at the very least is moving away from us. But God doesn't view us through such a lens. He loves us whether we are up, down or sideways. Embracing His love will not only lead us to freedom from addiction, it will also point the way to joy.
Maybe when you hear (or sing) Joy to the World this Christmas season it will bear fresh meaning. Maybe it won't just be another carol, but instead it will become an anthem for your recovery journey. There is joy on this road to recovery. Will you fix your eyes on Jesus? He knows where to find it...