In thinking about how to find joy in difficult circumstances, we need to look no further than the joy found in a relationship in the midst of those circumstances. But it has to be the right relationship. Keep listening to learn how.

My mother the queen

A few years ago, I had a conversation with our twin grandsons about Queen Elizabeth II of England being the longest-ruling monarch in British history. I mentioned that her son, Prince Charles, will become king when she dies. She’s been on the throne for over 70 years, and he just turned 96 last week.

The boys wanted to know how old Charles is, so when I told them he is just a few months older than me they responded with, “WHOA! That’s not right. The queen should resign and give Charles a chance. It should be his turn now. He’s waited way too long to become king!“

I see in Prince Charles a person who represents a lot of us who have aspirations for our lives that are blocked by circumstances beyond our control. How we respond in situations like this will determine how much joy we’ll experience in life. It’s an important topic and the subject of today’s episode, how to find joy no matter what.

Obstacles out of our control

Some of us can identify with Prince Charles when we’ve been blocked from getting a job we want because someone else has that position and isn’t moving on anytime soon. I saw that all the time during my time running an executive reciting firm. It was a common reason for people to leave one company to join another where their advancement potential was unhindered.

Sometimes though, people wanted to leave a job they didn’t care for, but couldn’t. There may not have been openings with other companies that would pay them what they were currently earning. They may have needed the insurance their current employer offered that others didn’t. It was easy to feel trapped in situations like these. To find joy in circumstances like these is a challenge, for sure.

And it’s not just in job situations where it’s hard to find joy when we don’t have what we want. There are many other things out of our control that can keep us from our achieving our goals and dreams. I don’t need to give you examples. You know what I’m talking about.

So what do we do about it?

How to cope with difficult circumstances

Some people choose to live as victims. Others live a life of resignation devoid of joy. Still others scratch and crawl around the edges of reality trying to change the unchangeable.

But then there are others who actually find joy in the difficult circumstances they find themselves in. How do they do it?

Here’s how: They follow the example of the apostle Paul which we find in his letter to the Philippines, chapter 4. Here’s what he wrote:

“… for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

The last part of this verse is so often misapplied as a motivational pep talk to achieve ambitious goals of one kind or another. It’s viewed sometimes as the “American Dream” verse that if we work hard enough we can achieve just about anything. But that’s not the context of this passage.

A new perspective on old circumstances

The context is being strengthened by Jesus to live with contentment in the midst of current difficult circumstances. It’s not about changing those circumstances by trying harder and better.

In this passage, I like how Paul describes this important principle as a “secret.” It’s not something he is trying to hide from anyone. It’s just that the secret is found in his relationship with Jesus Christ. And not everyone is interested in Jesus. He’s the last place some people would look to find joy in difficult situations.

But Jesus is where Paul gets his strength to be content in whatever circumstance he is in, and this is where he finds joy. And where we can find it too.

In challenging circumstances, we often overlook the power of relationships as a source of joy. Here’s an example from my recruiting days.

Relationships make bad things better

I had recruited a high-quality computer guy for a client of mine. I’ll call him Joe, I don’t recall his actual name, but for the purpose of my story, I’ll call him Joe. Joe is my brother’s name.

Anyway, in vetting Joe for my client’s opening, I grilled him about what why he would consider leaving his current employer. He gave me all kinds of reasons why he didn’t find joy in his job.

As I did with every candidate, I asked what an ideal job would look like for him. Based on what Joe desired in a new job, and his reasons for wanting to leave his current position, I thought he was a good match for my client’s opening. So I arranged an interview for Joe. The company thought he was a good fit and better than other candidates they interviewed, so they made him an attractive job offer.

I presented the offer to Joe, and he was really pleased. I don’t recall all the details, but he was happy to get the offer because he was so dissatisfied with his current position and its lack of advancement potential. It reminds me of Prince Charles who is prevented from advancing to become King of England anytime soon because of the longevity of his mother, Queen Elizabeth.

A surprising outcome

Joe took a couple of days to consider the job offer from my client, but to my surprise, he turned the offer down. I couldn’t believe it.

“Joe,” I said. “I can’t believe you’re turning this offer down. It has just about everything you said you want in a new job. It’s a lot more money and a lot more responsibility that you were looking for. It gives you things you don’t have now from your company. I don’t get it. Why are you turning it down?”

“I know, I know. You’re right,” Joe said. “Everything you said is true. It is a really good offer and opportunity.”

“But the thing is, softball season is going to be starting pretty soon, and I love playing on our company’s team. I’m pretty close with my buddies on the team, and I’d hate to give that up. It’s really important to me.”

So Joe decided to stay at a job he didn’t like, that had little or no advancement possibilities, because….relationships with his pals on the softball team brought him joy. These relationships made up for his negative feelings about his job, boss, and company.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

Now, your job or career may be going along just fine. And maybe all the stars and planets are in perfect alignment and you’re living a pretty stress-free life at the moment.

But there will come a time when you will face difficult circumstances. So what do you do then? By all means, do what any reasonable person would do to change their circumstances. You have agency in many areas of life. Don’t live as a victim. Take control where you have control.

Face the fact though, that there will be situations in life where you have no control. You can expend a lot of physical and emotional energy trying to change circumstances that in all likelihood will never improve. Instead of working hard to change your circumstances, a better approach is to see if you can find a measure of joy in them.

In the story I just mentioned, Joe found joy in his relationships with the guys on his company’s softball team. It made his unsatisfying job tolerable.

For the rest of us, we can apply the same principle to challenging circumstances we face. Where things important to us are missing. Where there are things beyond our control. Look for joy in these situations, and look for them in a relationship. A relationship that offers much more than a relationship with people. A relationship with Jesus Christ. Where like the Apostle Paul, we can be content in any circumstance we find ourselves in because Jesus gives us the strength to experience contentment.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

No matter what our circumstances are, no matter how good or bad they are, we can find joy and contentment in them because of our relationship with Jesus Christ who gives us the strength and power to do so.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode.


In closing, I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to
reflect on your circumstances and the joy – or lack thereof – you find in them.

Where joy abounds be ever so grateful to God. Where joy is lacking, ask him to help you find it in unexpected places. It’s what you were made for. You were made for this!

That’s it for today. In the meantime, spread a little relational sunshine with the people who cross your path this week. Until we meet up again next week, goodbye for now.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

023: Reminding Each Other of Our Own Stories
059: The Last Place You Would Ever Think to Find Joy
139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

Our Sponsor

You Were Made for This is sponsored by Caring for Others, a missionary care ministry. We are supported by the generosity of people like you to continue this weekly podcast and other services we provide to missionaries around the world.