You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.
Psalm 16:11 (CSB)
Did you know the phrase “dumpster fire” is in the dictionary? In 2018, Merriam-Webster decided this colorful description of disaster was used often enough by enough people that it deserved its own entry.
I suppose I’m not surprised. How many times have I used that phrase to describe a situation or a season? A lot. I’ve said it a lot.
But lately I’ve been trying to avoid the saying, which one reporter calls a “gleefully catastrophic phrase.”* While it remains true— sometimes devastatingly so—that this world offers us constant chaos and catastrophe, that isn’t the only truth I know and believe. And it isn’t the reality I want to focus on or have a false sense of delight in.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should deny reality or pretend like everything is fine when it’s not. We shouldn’t filter our words and our photos so heavily that nobody ever sees our true feelings. And I am certainly not saying it’s wrong to grieve or struggle when life is hard. But while it’s healthy to feel our feelings and to share openly with trusted friends and family, let’s not dive into despair and throw our hope into the dumpster!
When we throw up our hands and declare a situation, a season, an entire calendar year to be a complete loss (i.e., a dumpster fire), we’re choosing to abandon hope and walk away from the joy God is placing before us. Instead, we’re attempting to find joy in the fleeting—and false—feeling of relief that comes from cursing a hard circumstance and avoiding both the real pain we’re experiencing and any gift or beauty that God offers us in the midst of that pain.
My oldest daughter just turned thirteen, and already I’m tired of people telling me how terrible the teen years are. First of all, I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten the challenges of being a teenager (and the many fights I got into with my mom). Second, and more importantly, I don’t like being told that I should expect parenting to be miserable for the next several years.
Thankfully, a few of my friends have children a bit older than mine and have chosen to find joy in parenting their teenagers. When they share about late-night conversations, shared laughs over old movies or autocorrect disasters, or the way having another driver in the house frees up their time (if not their worries), I feel so grateful to see that it’s not all bad. I’m encouraged to look for the ways God gives us joy in even the most annoying, awkward, or awful seasons.
At the time I’m writing this, our world resembles a dumpster fire in so many ways. It’s hard out there, and to be honest, it’s hard in here. Globally and personally, it’s been a difficult season—and I’m not sure when it will get better. If ever I’ve been tempted to throw in the towel and feel confident that joy is nowhere to be found, this is it. But rather than leaning into the cynicism that says nothing good can come from any of this, instead of abandoning my deep belief that we can choose the joy of the Lord in even the darkest times, I’m determined to choose joy.
Are you looking at a world or a season or even a life that you desperately want to declare a waste, a loss, a real dumpster fire? What would it feel like to pause, take a deep breath, and open your heart just enough to be filled with the joy of God’s love and His presence in your life? Is it possible to do this?
If you’re struggling to find anything good at all, ask God to help. Ask Him to reveal the path of life to you, to open your eyes to the beauty in the middle of the pain, to show you one reason to feel joy. Perhaps it’s simply His presence that brings you comfort and then delight. Perhaps He will show you the work He’s doing even while chaos seems to reign. Perhaps He will redirect your thoughts to focus on the good gifts He gives us rather than the pain of this world.
Finding joy when everything is falling apart (or burning) feels impossible, but nothing is impossible for our God. Ask Him to be with you and to bring you joy, and He will do it.
Lord, thank You for never abandoning me or this world when we seem like a lost cause. Please give me the strength to feel my feelings but to also keep going, to search for beauty, and to find joy—no matter my circumstances. Give me eyes to see You wherever I look today. Amen.