What Joy Looks Like

I was sitting in one of many chairs lined against the wall.

Politely chatting with the lady next to me who was pleading for my attention and affirmation, but inwardly desperate for one final dress rehearsal of my own proposal.

I settled for staring at the black and white paper in my hands, wondering if it really captured all the vibrant passion in my soul.

Releasing your dreams leaves your heart feeling like the most delicate of flowers.

"Alanna Smallwood?"

I mustered up my most professional walk and smile and entered the room to meet with the publisher.

His eyes walked the imaginary vertical line from my head to my toes, and they said it all. He wrote me off as young, naive, and a waste of his time before any words ever left my mouth.

I'll give the guy some slack because I look all of twelve years old. I get that, I do. But his words were flat out demeaning and derogatory from that point forward.

"How are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm exhausted, but I'll give you what I have left."

Undeterred by his disinterest, I presented my proposal with every ounce of passion in my heart.

His response? "You're late to the conversation."

Another favorite piece of advice he gave me was, "I won't consider publishing anyone who doesn't have at least 15,000 followers on a social media outlet."

Music to the ears of a girl whose mom was the main person to like and share her work.

My mind became singularly focused when I stood up to leave: make it to your room before you cry. I mustered my best fake smile to every woman I passed. Suppressed every tear inching its way to the corner of my eyes. And walked as fast as my legs would move.

I closed the door behind me, leaned against it, and wept. His words buried me so far beneath the surface that it was a struggle to breathe between the exasperated exhales of heartbreak.

I was hoping for a yes, prepared for a no, but completely unprepared to be bulldozed from the moment I walked in the room.

This was not supposed to be the result of my courage and my faith. I had driven hours by myself into a state I'd never visited and to a conference full of hundreds of people I didn't know. My husband and I had invested far more than we had to spare into this opportunity.

I wanted to pack up and go home. What's the point of finishing the conference? What's the point of going to that second publisher meeting I have planned for tomorrow?

I have no doubt you've been there, too. Disappointed in people, circumstances, or yourself. Disappointment is ever-prevalent in this broken world.

We are left with the choice to either wallow in our disappointment, subsequently forfeiting our joy, or we can look to God to use disappointment to strengthen and authenticate our joy.

The truth is that the way we respond to disappointment points us directly to the source of our joy.

If other people, pleasures, or circumstances are the source of our joy, then our joy will abruptly depart when disappointment derails our hopes, dreams, and expectations.

But if Jesus is our deepest joy, then it will remain-even better, it will be strengthened- in the midst of devastating disappointments.

But weren't you crying, Alanna? Did you all of a sudden flip a switch and emerge from that hotel room with a smile on your face?

My sweet friend, don't buy into the lie that joy always looks like a smile.

I have found that more often in my life, joy looks most like an outstretched hand.

Jesus said it this way:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44, NIV).

Did you catch that? From his joy, the man sells everything he has to buy into the kingdom of God. Being with God and a part of His Kingdom surpassed everything else he possessed, so much so that he willingly sold all that he had to be a part of God's Kingdom.

Jesus repeats this idea in verse 45:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Both men intuitively sold everything they had in response to their joy over Jesus' kingdom.

Joy begets surrender.

If our joy is in Jesus, surrendering our lives is the only natural response.

And that's why disappointments and sorrows are the most fitting settings for true spiritual joy to bloom.

Surrender is our restful acceptance of God's sovereignty, a quiet contentedness with the story He has chosen to write, instead of the one which we had crafted in our minds.

As we trust Him in disappointment, He fills us with a satisfaction that literally cannot come from anything but Him. Real joy appears when happiness fades.

I especially love that Jesus used two parables with two different men in two different scenarios because it proves the point that how much we have to surrender is not the important piece.

Joy is demonstrated in the same way in both stories: selling everything they have. Total surrender.

So the argument, "I don't have much to surrender" isn't valid when it comes to this Kingdom.

Everyone has much to surrender, far more than we are aware.

We possess:
money,
possessions,
time,
responses,
attitudes,
talents,
decisions.

We buy into Jesus' Kingdom by surrendering our right to all these things. Following Him means forgoing our right:
To buy what we want to buy.
To marry who we want to marry.
To live where we want to live.
To pursue the career we want to pursue.
To retaliate when we want to return evil for evil.
To be angry, immoral, bitter, selfish.
To seek our own pleasure in life instead of His glory.

The list could go on. We have much to surrender in our lives.

And we aren't just called to surrender the "bad" things. His aim is to make our joy full. Often this means that He calls us to surrender "good" things, too.

To be our supreme joy, Jesus often calls us to sacrifice secondary joys. If we can surrender even the good things, then He is in fact, the pearl of greatest value to us.

In Matthew 8:18-22, the disciple said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to Him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."

Dang.

Jesus doesn't call everyone to miss their father's funeral, but He may call some of us to it. Nothing is off the table when you sell everything you have.

We withhold nothing if Jesus is truly our everything.

Jesus has the right to call us to surrender everything because A) He's God, but B) He did it. He was hands-down the most surrendered, open-handed person to ever walk this earth.

He gave up heaven to defeat hell.

He gave up comfortable, stable living to be a homeless man who travelled the world to preach the good news of God's love.

He even surrendered His very life to give us ours.

He will never call us to give more than He gave because that is impossible. He had more to give up than we will ever possess.

And He did it for the joy set before Him.

You see, Jesus demonstrated the beauty of joyful surrender. Jesus got back the very thing He surrendered to God, but with interest. This time, He gained a resurrection life and a body that could never be taken again.

This time, He went to heaven and was given the Name above all names.

This time, He entered into everlasting joy. Joy that will never tarnish or fade. It is joy that is full and lasts forever.

Full and forever joy is refined most in our surrenders, not our successes.

It is extending all that is in my hands and trusting that God will extend His hands back to me, confident He will because Jesus first extended His.

The outstretched hands of our joy mirror His outstretched hands on the cross.

This is what joy looks like.

May we measure our joy not in our smiles but in our surrenders.