Finding Joy Amidst the Trials

When I was a freshman in high school, I went on a mission trip to Cancun, Mexico for Spring Break. Some of my friends were going to Cancun for Spring Break as well, but for very different reasons. When my dad told me where we were going I was pretty excited, considering Cancun is primarily known for their tourist attractions, resorts, beautiful beaches and a trip where you all-around have a great time. A mission trip to the beach? AWESOME.


Not so awesome.

When we got to Cancun, we were packed into a tiny vehicle that drove straight past the resorts and the perfectly pruned palm trees. Our destination was on another side of town that was far from luxurious. I have this picture in my mind that I can’t seem to put to words, but try your best to picture heaps of trash, smoldering fires, fallen down huts, women with hungry babies, no shoes, no food to eat – poverty at its core. I was blown away. This exists in a place Americans come to party? How can this be ignored?

Cancun had been recently struck by a hurricane, so the people in the heart of this city had lost everything. Our job on the mission trip was to rebuild a church that had been completely destroyed. I met a young girl who was close to my age, her name was Alejandra. We called her Ally.

Ally changed my life.

Ally always had a smile on her face. She was so excited that we were there to help her, to be friends with her and she was flattered that people would travel from so far away to see her people. Ally lived in a very small hut that had been almost completely destroyed by the hurricane. She had one pair of ragged sandals that she wore on her wet feet, she worked hard throughout the day to help provide food for her family including her little baby sister, and she had one Bible that she held near and dear to her heart.

When I look back, Ally exemplified joy like I had never seen before. Despite her unfortunate circumstances, her spirit was bright and full of life (Proverbs 17:22).

Up until recently, I used the words “joy” and “happiness” synonymously. After all, even Webster defines them as such: Joy:  a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

Joy is heavenly focused, happiness is earthly focused.

The older I get the more I realize that joy and happiness are not the same thing at all. They are drastically different. You see, the Bible tells us to find joy in the Lord and what He has done for us – happiness has nothing to do with it. Happiness is temporary, happy things happen and then we are happy.  Joy, on the other hand, is a state of being. While joy can be found through trials, happiness can only be found in certain circumstances and usually revolves around tangible things. To put it simply, joy is heavenly focused, happiness is earthly focused.

Hebrews 12:2 says:  “…For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I doubt Jesus was happy when people were beating Him, torturing Him and hanging Him on a cross left to die. Yet, He had joy. His focus was on work for the Kingdom. Just think if Jesus would have cared more for His temporary happiness! God’s plan would have crumbled.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1: 2-3 (NIV)

God tells us to expect trials throughout life, yet to consider those trials a joy as He is refining us in our faith. My husband gently quoted this verse to me the other day. In the midst of something difficult it’s not exactly what you want to hear, but we need to remember that He uses those tough times to grow, mold and shape us more into the person He wants us to be.

Ally lost everything. From an earthly perspective, she had virtually nothing to be joyful about. Yet, she knew what she had in Christ. She realized this life is temporary, a momentary vapor, and that one day her trials would be washed away when she meets Jesus. She found joy through her relationship with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 2:20).

When happiness is hard to come by, we should always be filled with joy as we have a Savior who loves us, cares for us and has our best interest in mind. No matter what this life holds for us on earth, heaven is awaiting our revival.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” 1 Thessalonians 3:9 (NIV)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” 1 Peter 1:8 (NIV)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Ally thought that we went to Cancun to help her and her family. Instead, what she didn’t realize was she made a lasting impact on my life. When times are tough in my life, I hope I am filled with the joy that poured from Ally’s heart. I hope that I am able to see past the earthly trials and look forward to the heavenly rewards.

I once heard someone say, There is a stark difference between living for the moment and for eternity. The former occasionally produces happiness and the latter always produces joy.” I think that just about sums everything up.

  • Kristen C

    Thank you for writing this! We’ve talked about the difference between happiness and joy, but I think you explained it far better than I could. I especially like the closing quote and the scripture throughout. Thank you for taking the time and discipline to study and write this.

    • Alyssa Martin

      Thank you for reading, Kristen! I really appreciate it!