How do we find and hold onto the joy that belongs to us as Christ-followers? To find out, we talked with Thelma Wells, author of God Is Not Through with Me Yet (WaterBrook). In her early years of marriage and motherhood, Thelma experienced a near nervous breakdown. Then several years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and spent weeks in intensive care on life support, not expected to live. Yet Thelma bubbles over with joy. We wanted to know why.
What gets in the way of us truly experiencing joy?
Thelma: Trying to be somebody we're not.
God made us wonderfully in his image. But we look at life from the eyes of our culture: where I should live, what I should drive, where my kids should go to school, what I should have in my house. We begin to compete for status, for recognition, for all of these things that mean little or nothing in the end. And when we do that, we become confused about who we serve and why we serve.
If we aren't careful, we can become so angry and depressed and confused and overwhelmed that our joy goes underground.
Underground? That's a different way to put it. Usually we talk about losing it.
We don't lose joy. Once God gives it to you, it's yours. The Spirit of God comes to live in us. And he brings joy that the world cannot give and cannot take away. But we can make it go underground, where it gets covered up by the stuff of the day.
We women try to do too much. When I got married, I thought I could keep a house clean, do the laundry, make the meals, work in the community, work in the church, and have all these children. I felt neglected. And I hated my life. I mean, hated it. Okay? And then I started hating my husband. I felt like I was doing everything for everybody and getting nothing in return. And I ended up almost having a nervous breakdown. That was a defining moment for me.
The doctor told me, "You're always trying to please everybody, and people don't even expect that of you." Then he told me to go out and get a job, to do something to satisfy me.
Were you like, "Excuse me. I have a full life"?
That's right. I had a life—but not a life I enjoyed. He understood that I'd lost who I was. I was doing all this volunteer work—but it wasn't something that was just for me. I was doing it because I thought that's what everybody expected. And I didn't really enjoy it. I needed to do something I enjoyed that was bigger than myself.
And the doctor gave me another important task.
He said, "I hear you saying, 'I can't do anything right. Things aren't working out for me. I don't have enough time in the day to do all the things I've got to do.'" He said, "You have to change the way you talk to yourself." Every time I said something negative, I had to make it a positive. For example, I shouldn't say I'm fat. I need to say, "I'm well and healthy." If I don't have any money, I needed to tell myself, "I have all the money I need to do everything I want." It isn't a lie; it's an affirmation about what God has already promised to me.
So I stood in the mirror and I started talking to myself. I still do that. Every day I tell myself how cute I am. We can't wait for people to affirm us or our joy goes underground.
So in a sense, you were rediscovering who you are.
That's right. If we lose perspective about who we are, who Jesus created us to be, then everything else can create a backlash that isn't what God ordered at all.
I began to find me. I got a job as a substitute teacher, which worked with my family's schedule. Getting out with other people was great.