Suffering is an essential part of all our lives. And it is when we are in the very midst of it that God reminds us that the absence of suffering is not our good. The presence of God is our good. And knowing His presence in the pain is the sweetest gift of all.
Sometimes I wonder if, in our mad pursuit of happiness, we run right past the joy that might be ours. We work hard to change our circumstances or change ourselves so that we might be happy. We get ourselves into addictive behaviors (exercise, by the way, is also very addicting; so is organizing your life). Then we work hard to get ourselves out of our addictions, which sometimes only makes matters worse. And all the while, God is right beside us with a gentle invitation to joy. But we can’t hear that invitation while we are focused on whatever it is we think has to happen in order to make us happy. If we want to live in the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we must first pass through the crucifixion. We must stop running.
The evening after my mother’s passing was simply not a time for cheering; it was a time for weeping. It was a time to allow our hearts the quiet, the rest, and the repose they needed to begin to absorb the loss. Beauty would have helped. A quiet walk in the woods or along the shore would have been good. But instead we got blades, flames, and suppression of the sorrow filling our hearts. Trying to diminish the pain only increased its potency. Ignoring reality does not breed joy. Pretending that what is true does not exist is not holy defiance. The seeds of joy can only be firmly planted in the pungent soil of the here and now while at the same time being tethered to eternity. Joy is fully rooted in the truth. Joy embraces all the senses and is fully awake to the laughter, the wonder, and the beauty present in the moment as well as the sorrow, the angst, and the fear. Joy says, “Even so, I have a reason to celebrate.”
Crazy, right? Sounds like God. A God who laughs at the sneers of the enemy, stares suffering in the face, and proclaims with fierce love, “You do not have the final word.” And as He does, He captures our deep hearts with a hope that defies death.
We respect His authority and His final say.
We overcome evil with good.
We defy hatred by embracing love.
We choose joy.
In the midst of all the suffering in the world, it can feel irresponsible, even frivolous, to have joy. And yet, and still, we are called to it. Certainly there is a time to grieve. There is a time to mourn. To wail. To sigh. There is a time to know our loss and not have to cheer the teppanyaki chef, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have joy even in that painful knowing. Joy is the heartbeat of the kingdom of God. Joy is what sustains us; it is our strength. We can be resilient. We can be filled with the expectation of good things. And we can have joy in the midst of the lamentations of our lives.