One child screamed while the other two fought. Or maybe two screamed while one complained. I don’t quite remember—I just remember telling my husband I needed a break. I couldn’t handle the noise and chaos, so I held back tears, muttered a few words to him, and walked out the door.
I didn’t plan to go far. I wasn’t leaving in any real sense, just searching for a few moments of peace. I sat in the only place I knew would be quiet—in my car, in the garage. With a few walls between my children and me, I could finally hear myself think. I could finally try to still my soul.
The car was off and the garage door closed. I could still hear the muffled sounds of my family inside, but I escaped the responsibility of listening to their cries and answering each sound. I thought I’d find calm in the dark, quiet garage, but my heart raged inside me. Tears flowed, and I realized maybe I wasn’t trying to flee the noise in my house. Maybe I was running away from myself, my own failure, my constant sense of guilt and condemnation and judgment. I ran from all the lies that chased me like a vicious attacker.
For a moment, I wondered what it would be like to turn the car on.
The idea stayed with me longer than I care to admit.
I had everything I could ever ask for. The chaos in my home was chaos I dreamed of, chaos I loved. Yet there I sat, weeping and wishing I could disappear altogether. In that moment, I didn’t think I’d act on my morbid fantasy, thanks to a healthy fear of death and a strong, available support system. But I felt rattled, like someone was shaking me awake to the reality of a burning fire I’d been denying for a while. I’d smelled the smoke, sure, but I didn’t think I was in any real trouble until now. I saw the metaphorical flames. I saw the danger in front of me, and if I didn’t deal with it, next time the flames would consume me.
I no longer thought, “I’d never do that. I’d never take my life or leave my family.” Instead, I confessed to myself and to God, “I get why people do that.” I get why people, even those whose lives seem wonderful and perfect and #blessed would give it all away. Even without a clinically diagnosed mental illness or trauma in my history, my mind entertained thoughts I never imagined I’d have. If I stayed in this place for too long, would the next time end differently?
I laid my head on the steering wheel, my shoulders shaking from crying. I felt so distant from the God I’d walked with almost my whole life, so joyless and trapped. In that moment, it seemed the only way of escape was to leave or give up altogether. Despite living a life that on the outside looked pretty ideal, I’d lost sight of Jesus and groped about in a darkness I couldn’t seem to expose.
Thankfully I’d been in counseling for awhile before this particular incident. In my mind I could hear my counselor pointing out the lies I believed as I sat in the car. You should just disappear. Everyone would be better off without you. You’re a terrible mother. Your husband resents you. For once, I recognized that they were lies, and a sliver of hope remained in my soul.
I didn’t have a lightbulb moment or a spiritual vision. I didn’t suddenly feel close to God. But by His grace in that moment, He helped me lift my head, open the car door, and step back into the safety of my house.
While my mind walked further down a dark road in that situation than it had before, these pleas to escape and cries for respite became a recurring theme for months. I continued to struggle to know where God was and wondered why the darkness seemed to have swallowed any remnants of joy. Occasionally I still feel like joy has been stolen from me, and I’ve wrestled, wept, and cried out to God to restore what’s been taken. And He has—albeit slowly, and not in the way I expected.
THE LIES THAT STEAL OUR JOY
It’s impossible to feel joyful when you feel like a failure, when every sin leaves you trapped in a pit of condemnation, or when you fear that everyone—including God—is disappointed in you. No matter how perfect life may look on the outside, you’re smothered by lies about who you are and what God thinks of you. You can’t see straight anymore. You feel trapped and hopeless and dark.
That’s what the Deceiver does. He reminds us of our failure, questions if we’re actually forgiven, tempts us to believe God is too good to be true. And with the lies comes hopelessness. How can we have true and lasting joy without hope?
The evil one wants nothing more than to uproot our hope and make us miserable Christians. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “For from the moment we become Christians we become the special objects of the attention of the devil…It is because we belong to Him that the devil will do his utmost to disturb and upset us. He cannot rob us of our salvation, thank God, but while he cannot rob us of our salvation he can make us miserable.”
When he tells us the lies, the Deceiver whispers only half the story in our ears. He may remind us of our very real failures and shortcomings, but he leaves out the reality of Christ’s victory. In Romans 8, Paul tells us that for those in Christ, there is no condemnation. None. Yet how many times do we condemn ourselves throughout the day, building a case for why our redemption simply couldn’t be true?
I do this all the time, and it’s only been in the last year I’ve started to actively fight against it. If we’re going to find joy, we have to identify the lies we’re hearing and believing, and replace them with the truth.
As I sat in my car that one evening months ago, feeling joyless and hopeless, words of condemnation rang loud and clear in my ears. I’m not good enough for my family. Look how much I’ve messed everything up. I blew it, again. But the gospel does not minimize or magnify my failures. The truth is that God’s goodness covers every shortfall. He really is that good—and because of the character and work of our good God, we have hope.
ROOTED IN HOPE
Paul goes on to say in Romans that God did what we couldn’t. Through Christ, the law was completely fulfilled and sin condemned. We don’t live as though we’re still answering for our sin. We’re not awaiting a conviction. We live with freedom as adopted children of God—heirs with Christ, even. Why stand in the courtroom listening to the evil one list our sins instead of living life as free sons and daughters of God?
About a year ago, I started praying that God would give me joy. I wanted to feel better, and subconsciously I thought I needed Him to simply lift my mood. Instead, I needed the hope of the gospel to sink deep in my soul, growing roots strong enough that nothing could shake it. That process involved weeding out the lies and soaking in the truth, a process that hasn’t been easy. Many times, it’s been painful and frustrating, and I’ve welcomed the help of a counselor. But the gospel tells us that because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we have a living hope, and that living hope produces joy.
Peter says, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:3-4, 8). Joy is not a fleeting feeling that waxes and wanes with each season of life; it is the natural state of rejoicing that comes when we know deep in our souls that our hope is real.
God continues His work of restoring my joy. Daily, I fight the lies of the evil one and make the choice to believe the truth about the hope that I have. Some days this feels harder than others. But as that truth takes root in my soul, it’s beginning to bear the fruit of joy—a joy that cannot be destroyed by lies or swayed by circumstances. David puts it this way: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:9-11).
We can confess our sin and rejoice in the grace of God rather than feel trapped by condemnation. We can work and live and parent and serve by the power of the Spirit knowing that God’s grace is greater than all our failures. We can answer the lies of the devil with the truth of God’s Word. And we can live with hope knowing that one day, God will make everything right, restore what’s been broken, and give the fullness of joy that comes with His very self.
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