Intentional Joy Leaves No Room for Grief

BY: NIKKI MICHELLE CHARNSTROM

Sarah and her mother, Nancy for Sarah’s high school graduation. (Image Courtesy of Sarah Sligar)

Sarah and her mother, Nancy for Sarah’s high school graduation. (Image Courtesy of Sarah Sligar)

Loss and grief is a painful season life brings. Enduring those tear-filled, heart-shattering moments when reality sets in can absolutely alter anyone’s spirit. Although when 31-year-old Sarah Sligar lost her mother to metastatic lung cancer in 2011, her hurt led to unsurpassable amounts of joy.

Like most precious mother-daughter relationships, Sarah and her mom, Nancy were incredibly close — best friends even. Whether it was having a conversation two or three times a day, or hitting the mall for a bit of shopping, every moment together was undoubtedly cherished. So, when Nancy’s two-and-a-half-year-long battle with cancer was laid to rest, Sarah couldn’t help but feel devastated, lost and a bit angry. Despite any hard feelings, at the end of the day, Sarah knew her mother was healthy and at peace with Jesus. However, anyone who has experienced grief knows just how heavy and unexpected it can truly be.

“I struggled with knowing and accepting that it was okay for me to not be okay. I felt like I had to be strong for everyone — mainly my dad. I eventually was able to work through the raw stages of the pain and gain perspective on the big picture that she was with Jesus and I have the hope of being reunited with her again,” Sarah reveals.

When Sarah was just 11-years-old, she lost a sister to an inoperable brain tumor. So, naturally, she juggled with the “why” when she had to say goodbye to her mom too. In the midst of this turbulent time, Sarah was surrounded by loving women and sorority sisters who cried with her, prayed for her, and spoke encouragement into her life. The fact that she didn’t walk through this loss on her own surely rekindled her expressions of joy.

“My confidence and hope in Jesus brought me the most peace in various ways. It was in that season I got to know Him more intimately,” Sarah says.

It wasn’t until she began to serve in her church and start her career as a fifth grade teacher in Prague, Oklahoma that Sarah found her joy again. She soon realized the purpose of her pain is to live with authenticity and share Christ with the brokenhearted. 

While time does heal, choosing joy is an active decision Sarah continues to make every single day. She maintains her joyful spirit through a Christ-centered, others-focused mentality by building relationships and serving those who need Jesus. Although she experiences days of great sadness, she continues to take a joyful stance. 

Image Courtesy of Sarah Sligar

Image Courtesy of Sarah Sligar

“I can sit and wallow in my sorrows, dig myself into a pit of self-destruction and depression, or I can choose to live my life with intentional joy, knowing God has me in the palm of His hand,” Sarah says.

However, choosing joy isn’t always easy, and Sarah was wise enough to know it. In moments where joy didn’t feel within reach, Sarah gave herself permission to be sad — aware it wasn’t permanent but a feeling she needed to work through.

“I found I had to be sad and express that in a healthy way by sharing with my closest friends, crying and journaling. Expressing your sadness is extremely important in the healing process of grief,” Sarah shares, “One of the things I have learned is that no one wants to hear they are in a better place, you’ll see them again, etc. Being present, crying with, encouraging them, praying with, and just listening makes a world of difference.”

Although the pain of loss still lingers today, Sarah draws her strength and victory from the joy her faith brings. Walking through something like this has, of course, put Sarah in a position to offer advice to another woman who might be walking through a similar situation: 

“In the midst of the shock, hurt, pain, and sadness, there will be a day when you will discover the joy in you. You will not get over this, you will get through this step by step and day by day. No one can tell you how to grieve, it is something you work out. There is beauty and purpose in the pain.”

No one ever wishes to endure such great loss, but over the years Sarah has carried this weight with grace and strength. She’s found a power within herself she never imagined and a dependence on Jesus like no other. What could very well be considered a tragedy, Sarah has used for good. 

Sketch of Sarah and her mom. (Image Courtesy of Sarah Sligar)

Sketch of Sarah and her mom. (Image Courtesy of Sarah Sligar)

“I have learned the importance of close relationships and the value of people who speak truth over my life. I have also learned we are literally just passing through this earth. Our home is in heaven,” Sarah expresses, “I have always had a heart for the lost and for sharing Jesus, but this has taught me to be more kingdom-focused, to invest my time in the things that matter most, and to share my joy with others.”

The joy Sarah carries within her is something special. It’s brought her out of darkness and into the comforting light of a Heavenly Father who takes our hurt upon Himself. So, what is it about Sarah’s joy? Perhaps, it’s all in the meaning joy holds for her:

“The word joy means more than a feeling or emotion. Joy is a choice, an inner peace, an outward expression of the love of Jesus, and a mindset that you can live in true peace and happiness with the confidence of the Lord. True joy is not based on circumstances, but it is a heart condition.”

Nikki is the owner and founder of Crowned Chics. She lives in the warm desert of Phoenix, Arizona with her beloved family. If she's not ferociously clanking away on her typewriter, she's behind the camera capturing moments for her business Charnstrom Captures Photography.