But my spirit found a different story. Despite oppression from the enemy, the presence of Christ and joy prevailed. Children squealing with excitement at discovering caterpillars crawling along a mango tree, mothers smiling as their children held hands and played in the street, warm words of welcome to an outsider and stories of how grateful they were for family and loved ones, choosing to focus on what they had instead of what they did not. Where I expected to find sorrow, depression and maybe a little anger, I found joy, thankfulness and love, deeply moving me to understand what it means to choose joy over bitterness. Asking myself, what do I choose when life doesn’t go as planned (which it never does).
This isn’t to say these people are not suffering or experiencing pain… but that’s the point. Even in the face of suffering beyond what most of us will ever have to endure, embracing joy over bitterness is a CHOICE they have made, a choice to follow Christ and not submit to the enemy’s plan. We can’t control what life throws at us, but we can control our response. We can purpose and choose to embrace the joy of our savior no matter what the world does to discourage us.
Every one of us has a unique story. I don’t know of anyone who gets through this life without experiencing some pain, heartache, or loss. The people I met in Manila inspired me, left their imprint of hope on my heart, reminded me to choose joy despite what I might have to face at any point in time. Next time you face a challenge, consider the following scripture:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.