“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Neh 8:10
I felt the same sentiment toward this often repeated section of a verse as the sentiment John Green shared about another common platitude for sufferers in A Fault in our Stars.
“Without pain, how could we know joy?’ This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.”
I’ve heard it a thousand times growing up in church and didn’t really see how joy could be defined as a strength. A comfort? Sure. A benefit? Yes, that makes sense. But a strength?
Before I was sick I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about strength. When I did, it was always in reference to working out and fitting into some cute sundresses. Strength training. Strength building. Dress fitting.
True physical weakness brought about some pretty intense lessons in humility. Going from an active lifestyle to being unable to stand is strange. Your mind is telling your body to do all these normal things you thoughtlessly took for granted and it won’t listen. And it hurts. A lot. Inside and outside. You literally can’t even! You don’t have the strength to do it. How odd.
That’s what I remember thinking the most at the beginning. How very strange it was that my limbs weren’t listening to me.
Riding around in a wheelchair has taught me a bit more about humility. It’s humbling to be pushed through a crowd of normal people and have them stare at you, smile a little too much and use small words, or avoid eye contact completely in a pitying sort of way. I want to scream, “I’m perfectly normal! My legs just don’t work sometimes! Please stop looking at me like I’m a tragedy or my brain doesnt work!”
When you’re in a wheelchair, your disease automatically comes up, too. It’s okay. I understand. You’re curious. But I know after you hear my sad little story, you’re going to look at me with sad little eyes and tell me how sad you are that all these sad things are happening to me. Thank you. I know you’re sincere, but a discussion outlining how sad your life is with every well-intentioned person you haven’t seen in a bit can wear on your nerves.
You see, I don’t need your sadness. I have a strength in me that I didn’t realize until I tapped into it at my weakest point.
Currently, I’m in a really great place physically. I mentioned it in my last post, and things are still getting better each week, which is quite frankly a dream come true and I am thrilled. But the happiness that comes with feeling better each day is so easy and fickle, as it is entirely based on what my whacked out antibodies decide to do. Happiness can’t even compare to joy. There is no substance—nothing to hold.
That little verse in Nehemiah 8, which also advises to drink some sweet wine—cheers!— declares that the joy of the Lord is your strength. A little background: Nehemiah wasn’t a priest. I feel like it’s so easy to look at Old Testament stories and think to myself, “Well, of course he had a big purpose, he was high up in the church.”
Nope. Nehemiah was actually a regular career guy, more specifically in the field of Persian politics, and God was able to use him to bring some restoration to the Jews after Babylonian captivity. There were obstacles and challenges, but He really used this man and his career for a greater purpose.
This brings me joy. Not to be confused with a constant state of euphoria. That’s unrealistic and probably pretty annoying in a person.
I have purpose, and purpose is where my joy resides, giving me the confidence to handle any challenge, disease-related or otherwise. A knowledge that whatever pain the day may bring, it’s 24 hours where I have a chance to take a small step toward achieving my purpose for living in this world.