If you are waiting to find meaning in life by your willpower or for others to give your life meaning, you will never be happy. I can promise you that much. On the soccer field is where I used to feel connected to others. The place where I felt equal to everyone. This is how I’d think: My team loves me. I am happy. As I run with the ball rolling between my legs and smile at my coach, he fixes his eyes on me, claps his hands, and cheers for me. I listen to my teammates yelling my name, ‘’Here, here, pass it here, Kesmy!’’ My body is pouring sweat of joy, and I feel the power of being an overcomer. That is the life I dream about. But what if that life doesn’t last? What happens when others oppose me and try to prevent me from enjoying this life?
I was on a soccer team back in Haiti. I was 18 years old. I was good. My team honored me. I played every single game. At the semifinal, a big argument broke out. The other team argued that I should not be playing because I don’t have arms. The other team captain told my coach, ‘’If you let Kesmy play, I am afraid I would hurt him.’’
I overheard him, and it crushed my heart. Part of me said he is right, but the other part of me was thinking, Can’t he see how good I play? Can he at least pity me? I never felt so hurt and discriminated against.
“Don’t worry about it,” my coach told him. “You haven’t seen Kesmy play before.” The referee agreed with the other team’s captain that I should not be on the field. My team refused to play unless I was playing. I learned something that day. My joy cannot depend on people or what I am good at doing.
Our joy depends on God’s love. When we suffer or are mistreated, his love gives us hope to keep our joy alive. When others say, “You’re too weak to play,” or “You don’t belong here,” we don’t have to buy into their lies. Hope is the way we fight Satan’s lies. Satan plays with our weakness. He says we are too weak to live. He tries to draw our attention to our weakness rather than God’s love. In the way I experience life, joy and hope are connected to God’s love. If that connection breaks, then it is possible for me to lose my joy or have it stolen from me. When you lose hope, you no longer feel loved. To my surprise, Satan can use even Christians to take and destroy your joy. He uses teachers, friends, and life circumstances. He uses the voice of people with influence. Those voices can be compelling and convincing. It is so easy to trust their ideology and be convinced by it. I fell into this trap once. I had to come to the realization that my joy does not depend on people.
I also learned and embraced the fact that joy is not the absence of suffering. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Joy is the faith, hope, trust, and confidence in God’s love. God’s love is our joy. Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” (John 15:9-11). You can experience God’s love even in the midst of your suffering. Christ has been where you are, even beyond, and he asks you to learn from him (Matthew 11:29). I trust his promises and live in his love (John 15:9). The enemy can no longer steal my joy because God is with me. In Joshua 1:9, God says, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
How would you describe your experience of God’s love in your life? Maybe now is the time to think and perhaps even write it down; remind yourselves of it. Without love, there is no hope, and without hope, there is no joy. Love gives birth to joy. A child who grew up abused and never felt loved by her parent finds it hard to be joyful. Christ alone can give her happiness and help her overcome the suffering and abuse by her parents. Thinking back to when I first met Christ, my pain gives me a whole new perspective of joy. True happiness goes beyond what anyone can grasp unless Christ gives it. He gives us hope to keep our joy alive. Four things about Christ make me confident about my situation in life, no matter the circumstances. Christ is love, joy, peace, and hope. Do you have those? What energizes you to live? Maybe you have not thought of it because you have a job, money, children, a good home, and friends. What would happen if all these went away? None of these things are forever. People lose jobs, money runs out, children disappoint us, loved ones die, friends betray us, and friends die.
In trying circumstances, would you still trust in God’s love? Would your joy remain active? Have you genuinely felt Christ’s love on an experiential level? You need to reflect, beginning from the day of your conversion. If you don’t have a story with Jesus, it is hard to believe he truly loves. Jesus is not merely love in words. Sometimes Christians tend to talk about God’s love as if it is only phrases in the Bible. I want to challenge you to think of your life story in light of God’s story—to see the good things God has done for you, to realize his love all along. How do you believe in Christ’s love when it has been 10 years since you felt his love?
I spent three weeks talking about love in the nursing home. You would be shocked with the answers I received from the seniors about God’s love. How they have experienced God’s love! Most of their responses and stories can be summarized in two major themes: God’s faithfulness and God as supreme ruler over their lives. Though they are now away from family and friends, and are unable to do the things they used to do, they have joy because they know they are loved. Hebrews 12:2 commands us, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus is faithful and consistent in his love toward the seniors. Jesus’s faithfulness is enough for them to trust him. If you miss this truth, it is impossible to have joy in times of difficulty. Believing in Christ’s love is foundational for our hope and joy. When you suffer, it is not because he loves you less. I am sure he has a better plan for you. It might not be the most pleasant one as far as you are concerned. When all is said and done, you will have a fantastic a-ha moment. The seniors at the nursing home embrace God’s love even in their suffering. So can you. Christ is faithful.
Isn’t Christ supreme over all the earth? What kind of need is too much for him to accomplish? What kind of suffering is too much for him to alleviate? Pray and pray some more. We can never ask for too much from God. Be open that not all answers will be yes answers. Do not lose hope and let the enemy steal your joy. Jesus loves you enough not to give you what you don’t need. There was a point in my life when I didn’t get my prayers answered. I attributed it to not having enough faith. As a young Christian, I taught that if you genuinely believe in Jesus, ask him for anything and he will do it. This is a false statement. For some of us, we even equate this to the gospel or consider it part of the Christian creed. The right statement is this: If you believe and have faith in Christ and ask for anything; he will do for you according to his will. Not all things we ask God for are according to his will. God forbid he should always answer our prayers according to our will. But shouldn’t we ask God for things? Yes, the Bible encourages us to pray and ask God. In fact, God is honored when we ask him for things. We don’t ask enough. Paul says we don’t receive because we do not ask (James 4:2). We give up too easy after a while. As I am reflecting right now, I am convicted how fast I give up on praying for physical miracle arms from God. I spent three years praying for arms. Now I hardly do this. Though God did give two prostheses.
I allow my suffering to teach me and point me to Christ. Not as an escape, but as a drive to persevere. God uses my pain to show me real joy in Christ both now and forever. I experience his love continually from people he puts on my path, from the Holy Spirit through reading Scripture, and from his protection every day. You can have joy in the time of suffering. You can experience joy amid suffering if you embrace God’s love and look at the present circumstance with eyes of hope. We are called to suffer for Christ because suffering will teach and point us toward hope and joy found only in Christ. Only through actively pursuing Christ can we remain joyful and find true love. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).