I thought it might be good to explain where the blog name came from. It’ll give you an insight into a little bit of my journey so far. Apologies to those of you who have heard this story many times already (although this is the longer version so you probably haven’t heard it all).
For as long as I can remember, when I thought about the fruit of the Spirit I knew joy was something I struggled with. I could see growth in my life regarding the rest of the spiritual fruit, but joy always seemed to elude me and nothing I did made any difference. I thought about joy, prayed about joy, prayed for joy, asked God why I didn’t have joy, read books about joy, sang songs about joy, had joy spoken over me by others, set my phone’s welcome note to ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’… but never seemed to be able to experience joy. It’s not that I was unhappy. I had good days and bad days like everyone else. I would say I was generally content with life. I loved God and knew he loved me. There seemed no reason why I wasn’t able to grow in joy.
About five years ago I started to become sad, all the time. Actually, I don’t really know when it started, it was such a gradual thing, but I know that by five years ago I had noticed. Again, it’s not that I was never happy or life was terrible, but I always had an underlying sadness that just wouldn’t shift. It wasn’t like what I know of depression. It was just a feeling of sadness. I got to the stage where I believed it was a part of me, of my personality, and that I just had to get used to it as it was never going to change. In journal entries I refer to giving ‘my sadness’ to God, to worshipping him even in it. Looking back, I can see that I accepted it, owned it as mine.
At the same time, I had started living day to day, just praying for the strength to get through. I had stopped dreaming and had no vision; I had stopped hoping for something better. I spent a lot of time feeling empty and aimless, wondering what God had planned for my life, searching for some kind of change. I thought about different jobs – even applied for a couple. I knew teaching wasn’t going to be my life-long career but I couldn’t think of anything else I really wanted to do. At times I got glimpses of something I could be passionate about, but only glimpses. I felt lost, sometimes lonely, often inadequate, and always sad underneath it all.
In May 2010, God spoke to me very clearly and told me to stop volunteering for one year (ironically, this happened at a conference about volunteering). At that point, I was involved in leading children’s and youth work in church, leading a cell/small group, had just led a mission trip in my Easter holidays and was preparing for the summer scheme I coordinated. I was also a full-time primary school teacher. I was burnt out, but the idea of stopping terrified me. I realised I got a lot of my self-worth from all the stuff I was doing.
I did stop. I took a year – September 2010 to August 2011 – and I didn’t volunteer. I was still busy, but my mindset was that this was a year set aside for God to do what he wanted with me. There were lots of things that needed to change and I won’t go into all of them now, but I never imagined that losing the sadness would be part of the year – I had stopped thinking that was possible.
In January I started attending a course called ‘Cleansing Stream’ at my church (slightly cheesy name but such a good course!) I was eagerly anticipating what God might do through it and went with an open heart to receive whatever he wanted to give me. Towards the end of the course there was a retreat with teaching and prayer ministry for a whole range of areas. There were a lot of important moments where issues I’ve carried for years just fell away, like my constant sense of inadequacy, and interestingly every prayer for me mentioned joy.
Then came the session on ‘Death’. I had no idea what this might be about, but the teaching explained that a spirit of death can cause death in your spirit (not knowing God), body (sickness or physical death) or your soul. Death in your soul looks like lack of vision and hope, feelings of depression and despair. It was as if someone was describing my life and I was stunned. As I was listening it slowly sank in – this could change! I could change! I didn’t have to be sad! Everyone gets prayer for every topic at Cleansing Stream and mostly it’s not very dramatic or even very long. But after I prayed and received prayer regarding this spirit of death, I was filled with joy, pretty much instantly. I’ve never experienced anything like it. All my sadness was gone just like that! I spent the next couple of weeks literally bouncing round my house, jumping up and down with joy, inexpressible joy.
That was over a year ago and I can say with absolute truth that I am always joyful now. Of course sometimes I have bad days and sometimes I get upset, but the underlying feeling is joy, all the time. It’s absolutely my reality. It took some time to change my thought patterns and I had a few months when I would have to consciously choose life over death, joy over sadness. Now, however, it is so much a part of me that I never doubt that I have joy. I feel like a different person and others have said they can see a big difference in me. I continue to be overwhelmed and so very grateful for what God has done for me, day after day, year after year. I’m walking in intimacy with him like I’ve never experienced before. And, with the rebirth of hope, I started to dream big dreams again, to have new vision. Which is where Thailand comes in…
So this blog is called ‘Rivers of Joy’ because joy is always flowing through me now, like a river, never ending. I am so blessed. And I can finally truly say ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’.