Letting It Go: The Road Back to Joy

FrostI freeze people.

Not as dramatically as a singing snow queen, but I do.

I freeze them in my mind. I remember who they used to be, what they were like before, the words they’ve said, the hurtful things they’ve done. And I keep them there in my head like little shrines to unforgiveness. I forget that they are living, growing, changing human beings.

I forget that I’m not who I was yesterday. Or the day before. Or the day before that. Or the string of months before that. In fact, I’ve changed pretty drastically since this time last year.

The other day I remembered a piece of myself. I was at Zumba (yes, we missionaries sometimes do Zumba), and I couldn’t get my directionally challenged self to figure out the steps, so I turned to the also-very-lost woman next to me and we played patty cake instead. Two grown women laughing and slapping each other’s palms with more enthusiasm than rhythm. And there it was, a curling little colorful tendril of silly, emerging like a flower from the foggy grey of the last few months. A tiny sunshine yellow bit of my soul that few people here have seen.

I wonder how little I see of some of the people I know. And I wonder how much of what I do see is a snapshot from the past, flat and lifeless and so utterly unlike the real thing. I think I understand them and where they’re coming from, so I miss it all – the rivers of emotion and thought and God’s Spirit that run beneath the surface, changing a person from the inside out. The dreams that have quaked and shifted, opening cracks for tender new shoots that are pushing forward into the light.

Not wanting to see how people are changing doesn’t keep them in place. Instead, it keeps me from moving forward. Unforgiveness is a deadly anchor that drags a mind down across icy tracks into cold, blind caverns of bitterness and despair.

Bitterness and despair always come together like disfigured, shriveling twins. They are the dying.

And joy.

Joy is the living.

Joy and unforgiveness cannot coexist. When one is fed, the other fades away. It’s that simple. The one that is tended is the one that will grow. The one that’s rehearsed is the one our souls learn to sing.

Joy doesn’t ignore the hurt or excuse it away. It just makes it possible to let it go, lay it down, make room to hold onto the things that matter. Joy makes space to remember who we are, to see who we are becoming. It allows for hope that God is also doing new things, things we maybe can’t see yet in people who have wounded us. It also allows for the freedom to let people make their own choices, even destructive ones that might lead to their crumbling, because maybe the crumbling is the thing they need most.

So how do we tend joy? I’m still figuring that out, but I think the beginning looks something like this.

Starve bitterness. No more lists of why we’re right and they’re wrong. No more hitting repeat on painful conversations. Once injustice and sin have been named and held to the light, give them to Jesus and let Him do what He needs to in His timing.

Stop playing the shame game. I’m not sure unforgiveness towards others can ever be untangled from unforgiveness towards ourselves. Wherever there is unforgiveness, pride and shame run together, tying us up and weighing us down. Shame will always have a way in until we really, actually believe that we are forgiven and we choose to wrap ourselves in truths like these:

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NLT)

“Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.” (Psalm 34:5 NLT)

Live today’s life. Smell a gardenia. Drink coffee. Listen to someone’s dreams. Make a sandwich for a sticky faced little one. Stargaze. Watch a movie. Color with crayons. Hug a friend. Squish mud between your toes. Cry if you need to. Take a nap. Make black beans and rice. Do Zumba and laugh at yourself. Don’t try to straddle the line between yesterday and today or today and tomorrow. We’re not meant to stretch that way. Just do the now.

Seek the truth speakers. I have a group of sister-friends who gently pursue my heart and help reorient my thinking. They know I’ve spent the last seven months recovering from severe anxiety and insomnia, and they are cheering me on, but they aren’t afraid to push my buttons. These women, along with my husband and sister, ask hard questions and remind me to look for beauty in the ashes, to rejoice in the new work God is doing. And, just as beautiful, they expect me to do all these things for them, too.

Find space. Space to think, to pray, to read Scripture. Space to lay it all out and let God’s Spirit flow in and through the shattered pieces. Space to breathe, be silent, be still. Space just to be. I’m an extrovert, a pretty extreme one, actually, and it takes a whole lot before I start to feel the need for solitude. But without the daily rhythm of finding space to hide away alone, I start to lose my balance. Some days that time is more limited than others (I do still have a preschooler at home), but now that I have that rhythm, I crave solitude. It’s there in those times that my soul unfolds and heals while I rest. It’s there that joy takes root so it can unfurl into full glory.

Because that’s what joy really is. It’s God’s glory, opening us up to be who we truly are.


  1. Jenny
    Apr 23, 2016

    Perfectly written and refreshing for my soul.

  2. Anita
    Apr 24, 2016

    what an encouragement (I’m sure to so many) – it is amazing how quickly we can shrivel spiritually – thank you for bringing me “up short” and showing how we can turn around.

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