I did not want to go to the Passion conference. Tens of thousands of people that I didn't know? Close quarters for a few days? Next to no personal space? No thanks.
But God got me there regardless of my personal objections, and it's a good thing He did because I would have missed out on a refreshing, invigorating four days that changed and matured me as a follower of Christ.
As unappealing as it sounded to me, sixty thousand college students worshipping together is an experience unlike any other. It's truly amazing to be surrounded by so many people that believe the same thing you do, that worship the same God you do, that are singing together, with one voice, an anthem of praise and trust and hope in Christ. It's an experience that I would relive again and again.
But one of Passion's hardest-learned lessons didn't even surface until after Passion.
I came home full of joy, full of new resolutions about my faith, full of excitement. I started journaling again. I devoured my Bible. I tried my very, very hardest to serve as Jesus would have served within my family and within my community.
For about a week.
And then I realized that something was not right. The excitement started to fade. My sudden love for the music of Lecrae dwindled into next-to-nothingness. I found myself choosing to sleep fifteen more minutes rather than get up to read my Bible. I snapped at my brother. I felt the haunt of anxiety creeping back into my spirit.
I was confused and rather disappointed. In myself. In God. In Passion. Had it meant anything, then? The things I learned at Passion - did I really learn them, or did they just pass through one ear and out the other? Wasn't I supposed to feel like I felt at Passion all the time?
Our culture and even the church itself have forced the belief that you should be happy all the time. It wasn't a very hard thing to convince people of. I mean, let's get real, I'd love to believe that what God wants for me is to be happy all the time. For my life to be perfect. For things to go my way.
But it's not.
God never promises that we'll be happy all the time, even in our walk of faith. He does promise that we'll have suffering (John 16:33).
Many people also mistakenly think that you have to be happy in suffering. When you have struggles or trials or tribulations, God isn't sitting up on His throne thinking to Himself, "I cannot believe they're not having a party about this. What is going on?"
I think He does wish that we could understand. That we could understand His purpose for everything. But because we live in a fallen world, and we can't, He weeps with us (John 11:33-35). He bottles up our tears; not a single one falls without His knowledge (Psalm 56:8).
What we can have is joy.
"Isn't that the same thing?" you say.
Perhaps according to Merriam Webster. But unlike happiness, joy is not an emotion. Joy is a state of being.
Joy is when your mom is diagnosed with cancer and you have to trust God with her life or death.
Joy is when Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were in a concentration camp and thanked God for the fleas and lice in their barracks even though they didn't feel very thankful for them.
Joy is when your child is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and you still trust that God created him perfectly.
Joy is not a feeling that can go away. It's not dependent on circumstances. It's not an excited feeling you get when you come back from Passion.
Joy is when you suffer, when you live in a fallen world, and yet you have hope, you have trust, you have the knowledge that Jesus is risen. You are enabled to live with joy when you realize that not only is He risen, but He is coming back.
Trusting and believing and hoping in the Lord when you don't feel like it, that's true joy.