When my husband and I first got married there was surely an abundance of joy. Being married felt like the most exciting adventure that we could have embarked on and we were ready to jump straight in. We were immediately thrust into a time of transition that was marked by new jobs, a cross country move, and entering into life as full-time missionaries. It was a lot, but it was exciting.
The joy surrounding us felt contagious and authentic. We knew that the first year of marriage would have difficulties; adjusting to living with one another, balancing finances and many other new challenges were sure to take some getting used to. We began to adjust to the idea of being newly married and we found it easy to find joy in our lives.
Slowly, we learned that it is easy to find joy in the times that are expected, the times that are predictable. What is not as easy? Finding authentic joy in the seasons that are unpredictable, sometimes riddled with suffering and usually challenging. As a Christian, it is often in these times that we begin to learn the true meaning and calling to authentic joy, joy that is rooted in faith and in Love – truly in God Himself.
As the months went on in our marriage, our hearts were confronted with the unexpected; new challenges, sufferings and struggles were presented to us. These crosses we were asked to bear were ones that we believed we would be immune to. It seems like as humans, we often think that a certain problem, conflict or issue is something that could never happen in our own lives; we see others working through these struggles and think “that will never happen to me!” Often enough, we are presented with these struggles and find ourselves praying for the first time in what may seem like years. These are the struggles that bring us to our knees, seeking God again after a while apart. These are the moments that often teach us faith. However, we usually don’t see these unexpected times, big or small, as times to find the most wonderful joy that we have experienced. We are still learning that authentic joy does not come from our own hearts, it is not something that we can create in these challenging moments, it is purely a gift from God. While this could attempt to be a blog with step by step directions for how to find authentic joy in unexpected seasons, the longer I write and reflect, the deeper I become convicted: Finding authentic joy in unexpected seasons first means finding God in the seasons that are predictable and common, when we feel as though we don’t really need Him.
If we pursue a relationship with Jesus in the predictable and comfortable times in our lives, blessed things happen. It is in the witness of the Saints that we see common people, practicing faith in their daily, comfortable lives. In these examples of heroic lives, we see an amazing thing happen; their faith carries over from their daily, predictable lives. Their faith becomes deeper during the unexpected seasons. However, instead of seeing their joy fizzle out from suffering . . . it compounds. It grows. It thrives in a way only authentic, God given joy can.
One of my favorite examples of authentic joy in unexpected times is a Saint known as Blessed Chiara Corbella Petrillo. Her story of authentic joy is so convicting that her best friends wrote a book about it, literally called “Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy”. As you reflect on joy in your own heart, Blessed Chiara’s story is an amazing example to reflect on and learn from:
Chiara and her husband, Enrico were married after they met on a pilgrimage. Soon after getting married, Chiara became pregnant with their first child. Partway through the pregnancy, Chiara’s doctors told them that their child would not be able to live outside of the womb. Instead of aborting their child as the doctors advised, Chiara carried the child to the end of the pregnancy, gave birth and was able to hold their daughter, Maria, before she passed away. Not long after this experience, Chiara became pregnant again. A second time, Chiara’s doctors told her and Enrico that their child would not be able to live outside the womb. A second time, Chiara carried the child throughout the entire pregnancy and was able to hold her son, David, briefly before he also passed away. Through it all, Chiara and her husband discussed how they grieved with God and their faith was deepened through their experiences. About these experiences, Chiara once said “God gave us two special children, but He asked us to accompany them only until birth. He allowed us to hold them, baptize them, and return them to the hands of the Father. There was a peace and joy that was unlike anything else we had experienced.”
Eventually, Chiara conceived another child and was pregnant again. Shortly into her third pregnancy, Chiara was diagnosed with cancer. Her baby was healthy and thriving in her womb, but she was very sick. Starting treatment would put her child at risk and Chiara was not willing to do this. Her son, Francesco was born healthy. Soon after her son was born, Chiara began treatments for her cancer. However, it was not very long before Blessed Chiara passed away. In response to her illness, Chiara stated “even if the Lord heals me, the greater miracle will have been that He helped my family and I live this trial in peace.”
Living a life of joy does not only extend to the seasons of our lives that are comfortable but reaches the limits of our struggles and sufferings. Finding joy in unexpected seasons means first finding God in our daily life, and letting His joy radiate into the darkness that we experience. Blessed Chiara Corbella Petrillo, pray for us!