By Lisa Hamel
I’ve struggled with depression for most of my adult life. As a child I was always happy. Then at age 19 it seemed like a switch flipped in my head. From then on it felt like I was crawling uphill, trying very hard to enjoy life and live in freedom. I wanted to have joy so desperately that I began to study the brain in an attempt to figure out what happened to me. Alongside that, I kept hiding God’s Word in my heart, trying to find that joyful connection with Him. The results of my studies, especially those from the Life Model have taught me some unexpected things.
There are many reasons for depression, and it is not my intention to make light of the work that may need to be done in the physical body, in therapy, or in spiritual deliverance. I have invested in all of these things and they have been an important part of my journey. However, the most surprising tool in my healing journey has been joy.
We throw the term “joy” around like hot potato, but many of us don’t understand what it really means. We think joy means correct perspective and being thankful. These are certainly huge parts of living a joyful life, but joy is so much more than that! Joy is more complex and, at the same time, simpler than you think.
Brain science has now discovered what the Bible has always shown us, that joy is a relational experience that positively affects brain chemistry. When someone “lights up” to see us, it releases a powerful cocktail of positive chemicals in our brain. Joy actually builds our strength to do hard things and stay resilient!
Joy in the New Testament is typically the Greek word “Chairos.”
1. “Chairos” means a calm delight. It means to be glad. But get this: “Chairos” was also a word used in greeting, as in a reaction to being with someone. Can you imagine if each time we saw someone that we were excited to see, we said “joy!” in greeting?
God’s Word shows us that joy means being glad to be with someone. Our modern culture has reduced joy to a choice of will, when God naturally hard wired it into us as a physical reaction!! Will, choice, and perspective are very important things, but they aren’t necessary to experience joy.
When a baby has someone smile at them and they smile back, they are growing joy. The baby didn’t do anything to earn that smile. The baby didn’t make a choice to smile. They simply responded the way God made them too. Someone shared joy and they received it. This joy strength in the brain is now understood to be an essential building block for a healthy brain throughout our lifetime!
1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.”
2. So we know the first meaning of Chairos, but it also means to be conscious of His grace. Grace means we are special to someone without having to work for it.
Joy means we experience that we are special to someone without having to work for it.
And isn’t that what salvation is all about? I don’t believe in coincidences when it comes to how God created us. The nature of salvation is echoed in the most basic area of our brain growth. Just as a baby does nothing to deserve or earn our love, and just as a baby experiences joy without earning it, we did nothing to earn God’s love. God desired a joyful relationship with us SO much that He sacrificed His Son so that we could have relationship with Him.
“But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8b
I still struggle at times with depressive thoughts. Who doesn’t? But now that I understand where to go for joy, I feel empowered to care for myself. I can get joy from a sweet baby in the nursery at church. I can get joy and validation from a joyful friend. I can turn my face to Jesus in gratitude and in doing so, become more aware of his presence.
“And in His presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11
Meditate on this thought my friend: Jesus is glad to be with you. He lights up to see you!
Let this truth sink deep into your soul and change you. No matter how you were raised, no matter how imperfect or broken your caregivers were, neuroscience is now understanding that you can still grow and change in important parts of your brain for the rest of your life! This means that what didn’t get set right early on, God can redeem. Even in these broken human bodies, God loves to redeem. Amen?
In one of my darkest moments a few years ago, I had a friend who was glad to be with me in the midst of the deep darkness. As I shared my messy thoughts and feelings, she said, “It sounds like God wants to create new pathways of joy, and not fear, in your brain.” I believe this is God’s heart for all of us. If you struggle with depression, please know you are not alone. Take one small step at a time to cultivate a joyful life. Get in the face of a joy-filled friend. Turn your face to the one who delights in you endlessly-just as you are. You are uniquely delighted in by the God of the universe, without having to work for it.
Lisa is currently "SAHM-ing." In the past she has been a pastoral counselor, a singer, a music director, and an accountant! She lives in a multi generational home in the Pacific Northwest with her two boys, her amazing husband, and her mother. She is a coffee snob and a health nut who loves to dance like no one is watching. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!