The Hard Work of Choosing Joy; A Practical Guide

Despite feeling like I’d written everything I had to say about Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I decided I did  want to add one new post, based on a response I gave to a question on Jennifer Fulwiler’s radio show. She wanted to know how I could choose joy during the darkest times in my life. What advice would I give to those currently in a spiritual blackhole? I had to admit that there have been times I simply couldn’t choose joy; periods of anger and despair when I refused to talk to God and I felt that all attempts at happiness were a fake. I talk a good game now about living a joyful life regardless of circumstances, but that insight has been years in the making.

I admitted I can’t always choose joy (though that is less and less the case any more.) What can a person in similar circumstances do? I told Jen that when I could not talk to God, I basically asked everyone to pray on my behalf. For the boys, for me, for my husband, for our faith; when I couldn’t get unstuck from the horrible place I was in, I heavily relied on the spiritual strength of others to pry me loose. Even now, if you see me posting a rare piece about how I’m having a rough time, it’s because I’m struggling to choose joy and I need a spiritual kick in the pants from my prayer warrior friends.

Learning to ask for and accept help in all circumstances is part and parcel of this special needs game. But it’s not just about having meals delivered or fundraisers organized. A spiritual crisis is a real crisis that can need assistance. It can be bigger than us, and just like we need help with physical things, we need the prayers of our friends and family to help when God does indeed give us more than we can handle. We can’t do life alone, none of us, no matter what our circumstances. If you are in a dark place, ask for help. You don’t need to be specific just ask for prayer, as many times as you need it, and force yourself to receive the Sacraments (Confession, Eucharist). Go sit in Adoration even if all you can do is ask “Why?” for a whole hour.

Finally, at some point you’ll feel yourself at the brink; one step and you’re out, one slip and you’re back in. This is where it comes down to making a conscientious decision to step out of a spiritual hole. You reach a point where you have to say, “I’m choosing joy. I can take whatever comes of this situation.” You have to work for a bit, but soon more time will pass and you’ll be able to look back and see you made it and that is a huge victory.  (That step for me after Fulton’s diagnosis was reading ‘Arise From Darkness’.) Once you know you can overcome that level of sadness and despair, you know you can do it again. You’ll still struggle but you can keep that glimmer of hope to see you through.

We’re a quick fix society but often the struggles thrown at us take weeks, months or even years to remedy; sometimes because we don’t want to give up our anger, resentment, whatever, and we, not God, drag things on and on. Don’t give in to the temptation to bear a grudge against God of all people, and don’t sulk alone in silence because “no one understands.” That is Satan talking and he doesn’t deserve to have any say in your life, or the life of your child(ren).

When I say “Choose Joy!” know that I’m not doing so flippantly, implying that it’s easy. It’s hard work! It’s an ongoing struggle in many ways but choosing joy gets easier. And reaching for the joy yields benefits far greater than allowing yourself to sink further into sadness or anger. Staying in that dark place is the easy way to go through life, and depending on your circumstances the world might accept that response. (People always seem surprised that I primarily write a humor blog given my circumstances.) But don’t for a second believe you need to stay there or that it’s the only way. That is a lie. 

So to those of you in a dark place who wonder what the heck I’m talking about with all this joy crap, I’m praying for you. And I hope my readers will pray for you too. How long have you been suffering? I’m going to ask God to start pushing you out of that hole. I’m going to pray that today, joy is easily evident in everything and you’ll be able to see it. Let the prayers of others help carry your burden. 


  1. Thank you for writing these posts and sharing with such honesty. My oldest has nonverbal autism, and so I really appreciate reading everything that you’ve said 🙂

  2. Thanks for this. I’ve been having a dark night of the soul this summer and just reading someone else’s experience with going through t it and back out is so encouraging.

  3. Oh, Kelly. That is so beautiful. I’m crying as I write this, because it really hit me in the gut. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil!

  4. I love you. Just needed to tell you. Also, I never realized what SMA meant for your family until Mary made it so real saying you would share her experience in double. My heart. You’re a saint in the making, Kelly. What you say here about the power of intercessory prayer is so very important and so overlooked in a “we can fix it ourselves” culture. There are some (many) things that are just bigger than us. We all belong to one body, and when part of it is invaded by darkness, the rest of the body ups their game. Let’s do this! Punching Satan in the face (I’m not Mary, I’d blush if I hit him in the nuts) right now for any readers who are in a spiritual crisis, or even a temporal one. With God all things are possible!

  5. “Learning to ask for and accept help in all circumstances is part and parcel of this special needs game.”

    I really wish I’d had someone like you to tell me this earlier! So thank you for sharing it with people who might need it now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.