Monday, April 6, 2015

Sorrowful But Rejoicing

The question rolling around in my mind this past week was this: Can I still be filled with joy, and yet embrace the strong emotion of sorrow? It's a valid question. In today's world (even in today's church world), we often bury sorrow. After all, Paul tells us to "rejoice," and he says it again (like it's written in capital letters), "REJOICE!" In fact, he tells us to "rejoice always," and "at all times." If I'm going to look like a good Christian, then how can I feel sorrow, too? Obviously, good Christians don't struggle with those kinds of emotions. But, this must not be true, because sometimes I feel sad & my heart aches. Each morning I pick up my computer and browse quickly through Facebook posts. Far too many entries become moments of whispered prayers for loved ones who are hurting. Far too many! When my friends are in pain, my heart is heavy. I feel grieved. Likewise, when I'm hurting, I sometimes land in a pit of discouragement. So, are these things wrong: sadness, grief, sorrow, discouragement, heartache...? Are they sin? Or, do we have permission to feel the emotions the Lord created us to experience? That question alone seemed to give me answer, but...

I kept asking the questions, sat with them most of the week, and little by little different verses from Scripture, which I have read on this joy-journey and tucked away, started to slip into the vault that is my brain. Words like these:

"Those who go to and fro weeping...shall indeed come again with a shout of joy... (Ps 126:5)."

"Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5b)."

Job's words: "My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids deep darkness (Job 16:16)," BUT then these words to him had to keep coming back: "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting (Job 8:21)."

"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh (Luke 6:21b)."

"There is an appointed time for everything. There is a time for every event under heaven...a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)."

"Jesus wept (John 11:35)."

Even in the garden, as Jesus prayed His high priestly prayer, His heart broke, He wept, and became so grieved, He sweat drops of blood... The Psalmist tells us of His agony in the 22nd song, "O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest (v 2)."

I don't know where it all started that Christians felt the need to "buck up." Maybe Nehemiah's words became the end-all verse:
"Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (8:10b)."

However, we could learn a lot from our Jewish heritage. These folks knew how to be sad. When their heart broke over sin, they wept. When a loved one died, they wept and tore their clothes. When life hurt, they wept (correction, they wailed deeply). They gave themselves permission to grieve. Even reading in context, Nehemiah's words, I got the full picture. The people were heartbroken over their sin, as they heard the words of the law read to them. The Word that had been buried for so long. The Word that Ezra had just spent "from early morning until midday" helping them understand. Nehemiah and Ezra gave the people pause to feel the extent of the sorrow, so that the JOY would be that much greater. It was as if they said, "Grieve deeply for a season, then step into the joy of the Lord. Don't stay there. Don't make your home in the grief. Take the next steps into joy. It is the joy you will need to strengthen you for the journey ahead."

Here's what I've learned this week (#lessonsonjoy): Sorrow isn't the antithesis to joy; it is part of the pathway to joy.

And, this (#lessonsonjoy): It is joy that strengthens us for each step along life's journey.

So...permission granted! Are you sad? Experience it. Indeed, Jesus said you will be blessed all the more for your weeping (Luke 6:21). Allow the tears to flow to make room in your heart for the joy to fill you up.

Caution: Don't dwell there forever. Take heed from Nehemiah: Be grieved no longer...grief will empty you of all energy; but, the joy of the Lord will be your strength.

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