Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 by Scott Savage

The Fear of Joy

What was the last great moment you experienced? 

A meal with friends?
A vacation with someone you love?
A sunset or sunrise?
Laughter until your face hurt?

If you can, close your eyes and step back into that experience. Recall how you felt and the emotions you encountered in the moment.

Now, consider this question. What happened as the moment ended? How did you feel? 

On multiple occasions over the last several years, I have found myself surprised by fear in the middle of a moment of tremendous joy. 

“This is amazing, but it cannot last. I wonder if something bad is about to happen. When I get back home, these good vibes are going to get crushed by bad news and pain.”

I’ve had a similar feeling standing over my sleeping children at night. I’ll be overwhelmed with love and gratitude, praying for their future. Then, in the same breath, feel tremendous fear about something happening to them.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown wrote about foreboding joy - that feeling we have when we are essentially afraid of joy. Foreboding joy is the sense that joy is always a setup for tragedy.

"Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy. How many of you have woken up in the morning and thought, 'Oh my gosh, job's going great. Parents are good. This can't last."

Many of us have a fear related to joy. Some of us battle foreboding joy - that joy won’t last and that it is a setup for heartbreak. Others of us battle the fear of never regaining joy. 

It’s the second experience of fear that we see in the middle of one of the ugliest failures in Scripture. The early days of the life of the man who would become King David are legendary. The overlooked son of Jesse was anointed king of Israel as a teenager. David defeats the giant Goliath with a slingshot not long afterwards. David soothes King Saul with his harp and then flees King Saul when his murderous rage produces a massive manhunt of David amidst the wilderness. 

David eventually becomes king after a 20 year interlude between anointing and crowning. David experiences profound success militarily and in leadership. However, David makes a terrible choice when he stays home and doesn't go to war with his army. He observes the wife of one of his military leaders, bathing on her rooftop. He uses his power and position to bring that woman, Bathsheba, into his bedroom, sleeps with her, and she becomes pregnant. 

David tries to cover his sin by calling back the husband, Uriah, from the warfront and inviting him to go be with his wife. But, Uriah has more integrity than David and refuses to be with his wife when his soldier brothers cannot. Eventually, David concocts a plan which leads to Uriah’s unnecessary death in battle. David takes Bathsheba into his home and the child is born. 

2 Samuel 12 records the prophet Nathan confronting David in a surprisingly creative fashion, forcing David to see his sin and leading David into deep grief and repentance. Psalm 51 was written by David in the time following 2 Samuel 12, recording David’s prayers to God.

Near the end of the chapter, David writes, “Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.”

When he finally faced his sin and realized the weight of his wrongs, David was distraught with grief. He recognized the evil that was within him and the brokenness which was now around him. In the midst of his prayers for mercy and forgiveness, David prays for joy. 

This is an odd prayer. Many of us have been faced with our sin and brokenness like David. We can relate to praying for grace and mercy. But, what about joy? When I recall times I’ve made a mess because of my sin, I don’t recall praying for joy. 

When you think about it, joy is connected to trust. Do I trust that God really has given me grace and mercy? Am I really trusting in God’s grace, or am I trying to earn and achieve my way to salvation? Do I believe joy is possible even in the moment I find myself today? Can I have joy in the midst of the present and trust God with an unknown future?

David prays that God wouldn’t remove His Spirit, nor send David out of His presence. David knew that the secret to lasting joy was being with God.

If you’re worried or anxious today, I hope this truth encourages you as it has encouraged me. 

"God is in the future and whatever comes my way, I know He will be with me there. With Jesus, I will be okay."

That truth, when I receive it, marinate in it, and trust it, brings me joy, even in an overwhelming time. 

In their song, "Miracle in the Works," @Bryan & Katie Torwalt sing about the importance of what we see when we look at a dark, difficult situation. 

“Some see a battle But I know There’s a miracle in the works”   Lyrics from “Miracle in the Works”

It’s easy to be afraid of joy when we’re anticipating future pain. It’s easy to be afraid that joy will never be restored when we’re overwhelmed. But, in the moment we’re standing today, we cannot comprehend what God has planned for us. 

In 2 Corinthians 2:9, the Apostle Paul declares, 

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

If you're afraid of joy or perhaps afraid that joy will never come again, I invite you today to trust in those words of promise. You cannot see, you cannot hear, and your mind cannot imagine what God has prepared for you. 

Think about that moment you closed your eyes and remembered in the beginning. God promises that the joy He has for you is beyond that. 

While you wait, hold on to that promise and keep trusting. 


Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer who helps you laugh, challenges you to think, and invites you to grow. He leads Cornerstone Church in Prescott, Arizona. Scott is married to Dani and they are the parents of three “little savages.” He helps hurting people forgive others through his Free to Forgive course and you can read more of his writing at scottsavagelive.com

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