Yesterday I spent the day at Disney World here in Orlando. Yes, one of the perks of Florida living is getting resident discounts on some really fun spots. Disney at Christmas is..well…magical.
Due to a foot injury, the only way I could go was by consenting to being pushed around in a wheelchair. I argued for weeks leading up to going, but Benny and Janelle (our daughter who is an orthopedic nurse) convinced me I just couldn’t do the amount of walking that a Disney day requires. So there I was with my “A Grandmother’s Love Knows No Season” sweatshirt, wearing a clunky grey orthopedic boot and being wheeled around the park. To say I felt old is an understatement.
I also felt self-conscious. I noticed others who really needed to be in wheelchairs and felt badly that I was getting special attention from employees because I was “handicapped” like them.
About halfway through our day I realized that the primary real source of the uneasiness. I was taking advantage of the luxury of not having to walk on an injured foot for the day when others spend every day confined to a wheelchair. Memories started flooding my mind of pushing my quadriplegic older brother in his wheelchair after a swimming accident broken his neck when I was 16 and he was 21. Day after day, year after year until he died 7 years later, Randy was confined to a rolling chair.
He had bad days. He didn’t understand why God didn’t answer his and others prayers for healing. He battled depression sometimes. But he was mostly productive, other-oriented and fun. A young man in his mid 20’s needed his mother to turn him at night to avoid bedsores and gave up a chopped Harley for a wheelchair. But he learned to exchange understandable bouts with self-pity for deepening joy in the midst of suffering.
Today I remembered the time he had Mom secretly tuck a small, battery operated “laughing machine” into his jacket pocket before he and I left to go shopping. Soon after we got into the mall and started heading to a store he had in mind, Randy used his elbow to push the button. (He was grateful to be able to move his arms, even though his hands didn’t work.) A lively male voice broke into hearty guffaws. In an effort to embarrass his little sister, Randy opened his mouth and jiggled his head as if the laughter was coming from him! If I hadn’t been pushing a man in a wheelchair, I would have quickly walked in a different direction to avoid the surprising looks from confused shoppers. Before long, though, he and I were laughing along with the box as contagious smiles and all-out chuckles spread to shoppers within earshot.
Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy. Yet for many, joy is elusive. It’s as if the expectation of joy produces internal pressure to be happy; pressure that makes the joy we’re supposed to have all the more lacking. Then comes guilt. After all, who isn’t joyful at Christmas?!?!
Yesterday I was reminded of how hard it must have been for my brother to spend his last 7 years in a wheelchair. More importantly, though, God drew my thoughts to the courage and character it took for him to choose joy over a life of depression and self-absorption. It’s been hard for me to battle discouragement during some months of foot pain! And lately I have been choosing self-pity over this and other challenging circumstances rather than the joy that prompted my goofy, fun brother to ask Mom to grab the laughing machine that day.
Are you in a fight for joy? I know how hard that fight can be. And I’m sure that some of you are dealing with far more than foot pain. Maybe you’re facing weighty or even life-altering challenges. Or perhaps the daily grind of day after day of life in the workplace or at home with young kids is wearing you down.
This Christmas it’s probable that things will crowd in to sap our joy. But let’s not confuse joy with happiness. Even in the midst of difficulties and hardships joy can find a home in our hearts.
R.C. Sproul puts it this way:
“It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.”
Downturns happen — even at Christmas. I’m grateful that God used my day in a wheelchair to remind me of a brother who to sustained by joy through his many dark nights.
I think I’ll see if I can find that laughing box online somewhere.