Author of Laughing Through the Ugly Cry Shares How to Find Joy Even in Pain

By Nancy Flory Published on June 20, 2021

“More often than not, we feel like in order to have joy in our life, it must be absent of all heartache,” author Dawn Barton told The Stream. The reality is the opposite. “The most extreme joy comes from experiencing the most extreme sadness or trials and tribulations.” She wants to tell the world, “You’re allowed to find joy in the midst of tsunamis of pain.”

Trials and Tribulations — and Finding God

Dawn’s book, Laughing Through the Ugly Cry and Finding Unstoppable Joy, published last year, is full of stories about the trials and tribulations she’s been through. She suffered the loss of a daughter, a rape, and her husband’s addiction. She was diagnosed with cancer and endured a mastectomy, chemo and radiation.

Having cancer treatment taught her a valuable lesson, maybe more so than the other tragedies. “It was in the agony and sickness that I found God on the most beautiful and intimate level,” she writes. “In the depths of my pain, I came to know Him best. I believe it is often at our most helpless, our most vulnerable, that we are most primed to hear and see Him.”

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Even so, Dawn recognizes that going through tragedy as a Christian is quite different than going through it as a non-Christian. “Going through devastating pain with faith and without faith are two very different journeys. So, my first thing would be ‘Get you some Jesus, you know, like you got to know Him.'” She’s not saying that flippantly, even though she has sprinkled belly aching humor throughout the book. She knows when someone is in the middle of pain, it’s difficult. “I understand that people sometimes are so deep in a hole.” But yet, “You got to get up, you’ve just got to get up.” She advises women to remember “today I have to bathe. Today I have to take one step. … And I think that there is part of faking it until you make it.” 

A Great Gift

Dawn doesn’t have the perfect advice because everyone experiences pain differently. “But I do think you must move. You must move forward and you must fight to get back on the other side, because God does not mean for us to stay in this place of sadness and difficulty.” She adds:

I think He means for us to go through it. And I think it’s a great gift in a way that brings us closer to Him in the most crazy sounding way. But, we are not meant to stay in the depths of sadness or depression or all of those things. And if we’re experiencing them, then we have to fight to get out of them. … whether that be counseling, medication, our faith, all those things. I want to give permission that it’s okay to fight, to come back. 

Choosing Joy

She once had a hard time with the idea of choosing joy. She remembers reading James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” and thought, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. … I don’t consider it all joy because in those moments it hurts. But as I look back, I did consider it a blessing to be able to know Him in a very different way, and to be able to help other people the way that I can today because of what I went through.” When we move deeper into faith, we know that joy is coming. “So, we know that it is the ultimate joy — God.”

Gratitude is key in living a happy life. “I think it’s everything, isn’t it?” Dawn says that in some of her darkest times she wrote down things that she was grateful for. “It literally works. So, whenever I’m really, really struggling, I will lay there and think. … And then you start with something like, ‘I’m grateful that my hair does well in humidity. You just start with the most stupid thing. And it just opens this flood gate.” She adds that she can’t list things for which she is grateful without getting into a joyful state. “It just is impossible. So, sometimes it does have to start with, ‘Thank you for giving me good hair for humidity. And go from there.”

LIFE Today Live’s Randy Robison interviewed Dawn shortly after her book released last year. You may watch the interview here.


Nancy Flory is an associate editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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