by Lauren Watt
Editor's Note: I am so excited to have a new guest post by my dear friend, Lauren Watt. Lauren is a wonderful sister in Christ who has joyfully navigating some very difficult health challenges with grace and perseverance. Each day is a struggle that she keeps fighting through; however, she has beautifully trusted God throughout the process and her faith has been made stronger because of it. Therefore, I am honored and privileged to share a guest post she wrote for us on choosing joy in the midst of hardships. I hope you're blessed and encouraged.
I'm an artist.
When I took my first lesson in oil painting nearly a decade ago, my instructor told me that once I started painting I'd never look at anything the same way. And she was right.
When I look at the woods surrounding my family's home, I pay careful attention to the shadows on the trees. When I look at the colors of the sky, I am more aware of the gradation of dark to light blue. I even notice things like how light catches on dew drops in the grass.
I am aware of many little details that I overlooked before I began painting. The world has always felt like a more beautiful place since I first picked up my brush. However, none of my surroundings changed, only my perspective did.
Ann Voskamp, a popular Christian author and speaker, says, “Joy is a function of gratitude, and gratitude is a function of perspective. You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see.”
A few years after I began to paint, I became chronically ill, homebound, and mostly bedridden. It's been a very rough six-and-a-half years of severe sickness, and it's been a struggle to stay joyful. But somehow, by God's grace, I have. Here are three keys that have allowed me to live joyfully despite my circumstances.
I allow myself to grieve. Chronic illness has stolen a lot from me. I used to sing in a choir, compete in public speaking, volunteer at a nursing home, and spend hours reading every day. I used to bake bread and spend my mornings outside taking care of my chickens and rabbits. I can't do any of that anymore. I haven't since I was thirteen, and I'm twenty now. Currently, I'm having a "good day" if I have a few hours where I can be out of bed and think clearly enough to write or paint.
John Piper shares good advice when he says, "Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that He’s given you." I've cried many times, and that's okay. In fact, it's a necessary step to healing. Even Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. There's nothing wrong with crying, but I also follow the later part of Piper's advice.
I accept my circumstances and live with open hands. I don't fully understand God's purposes in giving me my chronic illnesses, but I trust that His ways are higher than mine and that He loves me. I cling to Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" God didn't withhold Jesus from me, and so I am sure He will not withhold anything I need. He has also peeled open my clenched fists and taught me to surrender all to Him, and there is peace that is found in that.
I delight myself in the Lord, give thanks, and live fully right where I am. In Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery the characters Anne and Mrs. Allan have a conversation that is full of wisdom and that I especially relate to because my illness has kept me from pursuing my educational dreams:
If I can't live joyfully in a sick body, I'll never be happy even if I become completely healthy because true, sustaining happiness doesn't come from anything but knowing God and delighting in Him. The most wonderful thing about heaven isn't that I'll have a new body; it's that I'll be with Jesus. And since I know God, my life is rich and full right here in my bed.
Truly my cup overflows because I know God. He has also given me thousands upon thousands of things to enjoy and thank Him for... Rainbows of light dancing on my floor, a woodpecker pecking loudly at the suet feeder outside my window, a soft mattress, steaming hot herbal tea, loving family and friends, cooked apples in oatmeal, access to medical care... I could go on and on... There are even blessings that have come as a direct result of my illness such as increased maturity, more intentionality in how I spend my time and energy, deeper friendships, a closer relationship with God, and discovering my love for writing and art.
Every day I look for God's gifts, and I write three of them down in a notebook. I get to choose how joyful I am because I get to choose how grateful I am.
Today will you join me in daring to live joyfully right where you are?
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