There are times when life is a big fat mess of broken alcohol bottles and tears racing down your cheeks at three am. When the world seems to be caving in and you just, can’t, breathe. In those moments, happiness seems to be an elusive thing — something that’s out of our control , that happens to you.
But let me let you in on a little secret: joy isn’t always something you feel, it’s also something you choose.
The first time my best friend told me she had Leukemia, I didn’t understand the severity of it. I had this unreal optimism that the worst would never happen to her. And it didn’t — Noel was eventually cured. So as time passed, I started to take her health for granted again. I almost forgot she ever had cancer. Then two years later, her cancer relapsed.
On Christmas Eve, the doctors gave Noel only one more month left to live. This time, my optimism failed me as my heart shattered into a million pieces of fear. Yet more important than my helpless worry and fear, was Noel’s attitude. She was brave, strong and bubbly when I was constantly weepy. Even when the countless drugs, chemo sessions failed, she was the epitome of her name — a shout of joy.
It wasn’t always easy, but rather than dwell on her sickness, Noel clung onto whatever joy she could. Rather than letting fear swallow her, she continued to think of life in terms of what she wants to achieve. She insisted on continuing her degree, even if it meant rushing to classes between hospital appointments. Whenever I tried to coddle her, she would talk to me about her plans of moving abroad one day. She found a way to celebrate everything — birthdays, festivals, finished deadlines.
Whatever she did, she refused to let her cancer take over her living.
Month after month, Noel’s survival kept defying the doctors’ expectations. Until one day, she received some unexpected news. ‘Congratulations Miss Noel. We’re not sure what happened but you’re officially cancer free.’
We live in a world deeply tainted by sin and suffering. Like it or not, we all go through suffering at some point in our lives. Sometimes suffering is a Cancer diagnosis. Sometimes it’s going through a painful breakup. Whatever it is, it is significant to you and it hurts.
It’s easy to be happy when everything goes well. But when life throw stones at us, few can still be “overflowing with joy in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 7:4) as Noel was.
We assume joy is beyond our control, but Noel’s story shows us it takes energy and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted.
Too often when we suffer, we look for elusive somedays, a destination in life where we’ll be happy again. But someday is just a word we use to escape our present.
We are human beings on a constant journey of discovery. And this journey isn’t always pretty. It sometimes includes suffering. But the danger in denying our suffering is that we cheat ourselves of discovering our strength. The trick is to find joy amid your suffering.
To be joyful in suffering isn’t to deny reality. It’s simply recognizing the fact that suffering and joy are not mutually exclusive.
You just need the right attitude. Rather than dwell on distressing matters in your life, make a decision. Change the unhappy situations you have control over and let go of matters beyond your control.
Instead, choose to be happy in the here, now, today. Seize every chance to be happy and treasure each day as a gift from God. Smile at stupid jokes, hug your dog, celebrate every little accomplishment. Appreciate the smallest moments. Learn to laugh in the face of uncertainty, find beauty in the unknown, the unpredictable, and even in the awful.
In the midst of our pain, it’s easy to feel lost and lonely. Sometimes, our friends and family, despite their best intentions, never quite understand our pain. But never forget that we have a God who as the Chinese proverbs goes, 不離不棄 莫失莫忘: never abandons, never forgets.
Through your greatest joy and greatest suffering, He will be there to hold your hand and guide you through it. Sometimes that means miracles only He can do. Sometimes the healing doesn’t come and suffering persists.
But even then, there is still joy to be found in every day. Not because life is always good, but because God is.
There is always hope . Not that He removes our suffering but that He meets us in the struggle.
Now, go. Find joy amidst broken days. Live, and live in such a joyful way that death has nothing to steal. I promise, whatever you’re going through, you will survive this and come out stronger, more beautiful than ever.