We often talk of fighting cancer, of fighting to overcome addiction, of fighting to save a marriage or of fighting for our life. These words make me think of boxing gloves and raised fists. Of battling hard and getting bruised and maybe losing a few teeth.
Author Margaret Feinberg, named by Christianity Today as one of the top women shaping the modern church, recommends another way of fighting. “Fight Back with Joy,” the title of her new book suggests (Worthy Publishing, 2015), inviting readers to, “Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.”
Joy sounds like some pretty flimsy fighting gloves until you delve into what Feinberg has to say. “More than a whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles,” she writes, recounting her recent life-altering encounter with breast cancer. Devastated by my own mom’s cancer diagnosis, I eagerly read what she had to say, wondering how joy had anything to do with a deadly disease.
“What is the genesis of joy?” Feinberg asks. “I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us… God’s love guards us, protects us, grows us, strengthens us, and compels us to walk in greater trust and holiness.”
What a wonderful reason to be joyful, even in hard circumstances. Such joy doesn’t come from us, so even the worst diagnosis can’t take it away. Best of all, it’s a fundamental happiness that can be shared, as Feinberg did throughout her own illness and recovery, once bringing red helium balloons to the hospital and offering them to fellow cancer patients.
“Practicing defiant joy is the declaration that the darkness does not and will not win,” Feinberg writes. “When we fight back with joy, we embrace a reality that is more real than what we’re enduring and we awaken to the deepest reality of our identity as beloved, joyful children of God.”
As in Feinberg’s case, such belovedness does not save us from sorrow. It doesn’t mean God will answer our prayers in the way we hope. Or that we will be spared from suffering. But it does mean that we have a deep, unfailing well of blessing to draw from during our desert journey—a truth the author shares by recounting a little-known Bible story about a young Hebrew bride, Achsah, who asks her father for a gift.
“What do you want?” her father asks.
“Give me a blessing,” Achsah answers and receives more than what she requests.
Feinberg says that God asks the same question of us, ready to provide what we need in the middle of life’s hardest trials.
“In those moments,” she writes, “we can ask for special favor and expect God to work in powerful ways. If an earthly father will meet his daughter’s needs with such generosity, how much more will our heavenly father meet ours?”
True joy comes from expecting the unexpected, from experiencing God’s love and sharing it with others, even in trials. Best of all, it doesn’t require gloves and you get to keep your teeth. If you’re in such a battle, Feinberg’s well-written, honest and vulnerable memoir offers hope.