There was a time when joy came to me as easily as falling in love. I was 15, and for the first time the wonder of God in Christ opened before me. I read the Bible like someone thirsty gulping down water. I escaped to my room to pray. I closed my eyes, and slipped into joy like a second skin.
There was a time when joy was lost to me with the suddenness of unexpected grief. I was 17, and praying felt like staring into darkness. The Bible seemed to be only dry and dusty paper. Having lost joy, I pursued emotional "experiences" instead, but they were as fleeting and meaningless as an empty look from an old boyfriend.
There was a time when I laid aside the search for joy, and instead sought to know God. I was 20, and my head was filled with doubts. I pursued them through God's Word and Christian books until they were defeated. I worked away at tough theological questions. I devoted weeks to studying the Bible, and learned to share what I had learned. There was joy in the quest, but joy wasn't on my mind.
There was a time when the Puritans re-introduced me to joy. I was 25 when I chose to devote some years to studying their writings. They taught me that joy is part of God's very being, that (wonder of wonders!) God delights in me, that he invites me into his joy. It was like returning to a favourite childhood landscape, and finding it far deeper and more wonderful than I remembered.
There was a time when joy eluded me. I was 33, and years spent battling a habitual sin had left me bewildered and despairing. Pregnancy, babies, sleep deprivation, illness and mild depression sucked the joy from prayer and Bible reading. The perfectionism, rules and regulations I'd depended on for much of my Christian life crumbled under the strain.
There was a time when I was given the weapons to fight for joy. I was 37 when I started discovering, or rediscovering, writers like Martyn Lloyd Jones, Ed Welch, Tim Chester and John Piper. They taught me to preach God's truth to myself. They taught me not to let myself get away with anxiety or despair. They taught me that the gospel, not rules, would free me from myself. None of it new, all of it astonishing.
And now here I am, 41 years old, still fighting for joy, knowing that the fiercest battles are yet to come. When those old enemies - anxiety and discouragement - approach, they're as threatening as ever, but at least I'm equipped for battle. I fight for joy because God deserves it, because he commands it, because he is glorified by my joy, because lasting joy can be found only in him.
I take up my weapons. I flee to the foot of the cross. I say the psalms I've learned until I mean them. I read the Bible, begging God to open my eyes to its wonders. I pray, coming to God as I am, with my doubts and confusion. I force myself outside to walk in God's world. I ask friends to help me fight. I grit my teeth and do my duty. I serve. I put one foot in front of the other. I cry out to God, and I wait.
I know that one day, in this life or the next, Jesus will come carrying joy.
I've learned so much reading and writing about joy this month. I hope you have too! If you'd like to learn more, I've written about joy in my series enjoying God.