Back when my husband Jon and I were dating, a coworker asked me the following question: If you could get away from the crowds, take a long walk through nature, and choose only one other person to walk with you, who would it be?

Of course, being in the early stages of falling in love, I smiled big and responded that I’d choose Jon. Just the thought of how romantic such a walk would be made me feel sunny inside. I could picture this idyllic stroll in detail: We’d hold hands, get to know each other better as we talked about our likes and dislikes, our hopes for the future.

I couldn’t wait to ask Jon the same question later that day, because I knew he would say my name as quickly as I’d declared his. But to my surprise, when I asked him who he’d choose to walk with, he responded without hesitation, “Jesus.”                                                                    

I was stunned. Before I could recover, he went on to muse over what he and Jesus might talk about, how much peace would flood him in the Lord’s presence, and how much joy this walk would bring him. His ideal stroll sounded a lot like mine, only romantic love wasn’t his object. He wanted to walk with his greatest love–the Savior of his soul–and rejoice in the presence of the one whose love is better than life.

You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

(Psalm 16:11)

Rather than feeling hurt that my name wasn’t on the tip of his tongue, I felt bothered that my answer had not been the same. Though there’d been no right or wrong answer, I realized Jesus had been nowhere on my radar when I considered who might accompany me on this walk, and that realization did not sit well with my heart.

At the time my love for Christ was new, and this harmless question revealed to me that I was already allowing Him to slip into the recesses of my life rather than giving Him the first and best of myself. I was not “acknowledging Him in all of my ways” as Proverbs instructed. I was still elbows deep in the business of chasing my happiness, rather than pursuing the joy my future husband shined with when he spoke about the possibilities of this walk with Jesus. Listening to him talk, I knew one thing right away: I wanted the joy.

Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not.

-Oswald Chambers

I’d spent my life cycling in and out of happiness, watching it come and go depending on how I felt. If I won something, pleased someone, or achieved a desired goal, I considered myself happy; but if my heart broke or if plans didn’t work out as intended, my view of the world clouded. This constant roller coaster of emotions made me untrusting and pessimistic.

I didn’t want feelings to dictate my outlook on life. I wanted something more permanent, and I sensed that ‘something’ was related to the ability to consider Jesus in every context of life besides church, Bible study, or deciding what to tweet on a Sunday. Jon possessed this ability, and his life exhibited the unfailing joy I craved.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God.

(Isaiah 61:10)

I resolved to not just believe in God, but to walk with Him through life and make Him my joy and hope. When a new job opportunity opened up, I asked Him whether or not I should apply for it before asking Him to help me get it. I could be in the middle of an annoying conversation and internally call on Jesus to soften my heart and censor my words in the moment, though I’ve been told I need His help in controlling my facial expressions. I watch my kids and laugh with Jesus over that fact that He made me–quirky, crazy me–a mother.

I began to see that the concept of walking with God was distinct from how I imagined my stroll with Jon; and the differences between these types of walks highlighted the contrasts between joy and happiness. The walk with Jon would have been a temporary, happy thing–a single event that produced emotions for the moment. On the other hand, walking with God is not an event but a way of life, a form of dwelling and abiding. His constant presence is where joy originates. And knowing that He remains when all else may come or go, is a foundation on which joy is built.

Knowing this, I’ve slowly learned to shift my focus from the gifts of life–which bring me happiness–to the Gift-giver–who grants me joy. In the process I have been on a lasting, joyous walk with Jesus. I’ve walked with Him and wept over the loss of an unborn child, the loss of my mother-in-law, the loss of my brother. In these times he carried me, comforting me with the reminder of His resurrection of life. I’ve walked with Him and celebrated the survival of my twins who were born two months early in perfect health. I’ve walked with Him and shyly confessed wanting a certain Jon to ask for my hand in marriage. I’ve walked with Him and insisted that I was the wrong person for the task He wanted me to do, only to be sent anyway to do as I’d been told.

My feelings, which are fickle things, still run amuck depending on what’s happening. But God’s constant presence on this stroll through life has become the filter through which I process my happiness and sadness, my worries and aspirations. I’m grateful He chose to walk with me despite my answering that question all those years ago with hasty short-sightedness. Because even though this journey is littered with tears, to walk with Him is to walk in joy, and each step has been drenched in love.

Tanara McCauley is a writer of stories inspired by the adventure she lives in Christ. That adventure includes one husband, three children, and a fearful little dog named Charlie. And books. Lots and lots of books.

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