Joy and Sadness Coexist
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
Jesus knew about feelings. He was called in Isaiah, “Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He wept with Martha and Mary over the death of Lazarus. He displayed his righteous anger at the money changers in the temple courts. He received the love gift of Mary, the fragrant perfume spilled lavishly on his feet. He cried out in agony from the cross at the same time he lovingly, but no doubt with the agony of a loving son, gave his own mother over to his loved friend. He laughed with children, went to parties with sinners, and carried the weight of the sin of the world as his sweat was pressed out in the olive grove called Gethsemane.
He talked of joy, of troubles, of mourning, of hungering and thirsting. He commanded love and gave it passionately as his Father gave it to him. Jesus knows about feelings.
Two movies aimed at children come to mind with these wanderings. Have you seen or read Because of Winn-Dixie? In this story a lonely girl, Opal, finds a smiling dog, Winn-Dixie, who makes friends any where he goes, and together they bring love and healing into the lives of those around them. In one section, one of the friendless characters, Miss Franny Block, the local historian and librarian, offers the Opal a Littmus Lozenge, a hard candy created by a man (her relative) whose life was so devastated by the civil war that he was determined to add a little sweetness to the rest of life. But the lozenge tasted “good ... it tasted like root beer and strawberry and something that made me feel kind of sad” (p. 113) or “melancholy,” as the preacher (her father) put it. Sweet and sad mixed into one piece of hard candy. Allowing those together and feeling their affect is crucial to healing.
Last week I went to see the new movie, Inside Out. In this creative approach, the emotions of joy and sadness (as well as anger, disgust, fear) and are represented as separate individuals in a little girl's head. As the little girl works her way through the pain of relocating and losing all of her reference points, we watch the emotions trying to find their way. In the end, sadness is crucial to the memories and events and the way forward through the pain. The two emotions need each other. Alone, it just doesn't work or make sense.
In this walk of faith I am challenged to explore the amazing power of my emotions. I have experienced the loss of life and dreams I once held in the deepest part of my heart. As joy has returned, it has sometimes been uninvited and unwelcome. How can grief be so large and looming and consuming in my heart and soul while joy begins its dance again? How can life be so full of life while the agony of death remains, clouding my vision and my days? How can the two coexist? Does the pain have a box to contain it? Does joy fit in its own compartment and they somehow lay side-by-side? Or does the pain and grief absorb the joy, dulling the edges bit by bit and slowly but surely overtaking in victory? Or does the pain move aside when it’s joy’s turn at the forefront?
Or is it some melding of the two, pain illuminating joy so that it goes from monochrome to technicolor? Or joy infusing the pain with life to give it meaning and hope? Does joy lift the valley just enough to allow us to reach the summit? Or does grief bring us down again so that we see the delicate touch of a majestic God in the forming of the tiniest wildflower hidden in the lowest meadow? Are sorrow and joy two sides of the same coin? Or the top and bottom of the woven tapestry forming one beautiful creation? They coexist, mesh together, highlight each other – somehow sorrow makes joy technicolor and joy softens the edges of harsh sorrow. Instead of walking separate paths, they waltz!
All of us feel pain and sorrow. It is not an “if” in life, it is a “when.” And if sorrow is like the thick gray clouds of life, joy is the sunburst that brings the “ah,” quickens the heart, and reassures that the clouds aren’t for forever ... beyond them is the bright, true, forever reality!
God of the universe,
You are also God of my heart, soul, and mind.
I want to be all you created me to be and do the things that radiate your glory.
Holy Spirit, fill me to your full, and make my joy complete.