When I wrote Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough, I revealed that I had a close family member who was living with a mental illness. I spoke about the challenge of choosing joy in the face of a struggle that was very dark and scary at times – both for my loved one and for me. As you may know, our “struggle” became catastrophic loss when our twenty-seven-year-old son, Matthew, took his life in April of 2013 after two decades of intense, painful – even tortuous – mental and emotional suffering. The news of his suicide seemed to fill the airwaves for a short period of time, and we were thrust into the public spotlight in ways we had always hoped to avoid.
The detailed circumstances of his death are private, but what I am comfortable telling you is that on the morning of April 5, 2013, I had very good reasons to believe he had taken his life, although it wouldn’t be confirmed until later that day. The night before I did not sleep, full of anxiety and grief because I was pretty sure Matthew had died. So when I got dressed that morning, I deliberately reached into my jewelry drawer and selected a necklace that said "choose joy". I was sick to my stomach, shaking from head to toe and terrified that what I had dreaded had actually happened. But I put it on because somewhere in the dim recesses of my frozen mind I was certain the only thing that would allow me to survive the loss of my son was what I knew and believed about God…and joy. That morning I possessed these three things: the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be okay, and the determined choice to give my praise to God – even on April 5, 2013.
These ensuing months of shattering grief and loss have severely tested those three convictions and the opportunities to choose joy – or not - have been endless. I really believe that God allowed me to write Choose Joy before Matthew died to prepare me for what was ahead, so that when he died, I had the tools I desperately needed to survive and even thrive during one of life’s most tragic losses.
Most of you will not face anything as devastating as the loss of a child due to suicide, but every single day you will face something that threatens your attempts to live with joy. Health problems, financial worries, marriage issues, loneliness, unresolved relational conflicts, anxiety about our nation or our world, stress over how our kids are turning out – the devil is at work nonstop to interfere with or interrupt your plans and dreams. Your primary task in life is to get to know God intimately and to send your spiritual roots deep into the soil of His love; to develop convictions and certainties about Him that will become the source of your strength when happiness isn’t enough.
I pray that the brief daily conversations about how to choose joy – no matter what you’re going through – inspire you to know God better, to trust him more, and to become convinced that you, too, can choose joy!