Last night while unable to sleep, I finished up reading In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. While based on a true story, it’s a fictitious tale of a young girl and her family’s journey during the Khmer Rouge era-the incredible hardships and loss they endured. It’s a tragic yet beautiful tale, centered around the telling of stories and the importance of words. I was particularly struck by the following sentence:
“….joy and sorrow often travel the same road and sometimes, whether by grace or misfortune, they meet and become each other’s companion.”
The truth in that sentence almost needs no commentary from me, however I am compelled to speak to it. Joy and sorrow often do travel the same road. I’ve known that so well in my life, and I know that you have as well. And while the author attributes it to either grace or misfortune, I would say that it is grace that is the prevailing reason why joy and sorrow become each other’s companion.
Sorrow and grief are a part of this life. We experience this grief in so many ways–the loss of friends and loved ones, sickness, financial hardship, unspeakable horrors, tragic circumstances. One day all can be well, the next day a curtain of despair can descend. We experience it close to home, in our families–and we experience it as sojourners here on earth as we watch and read the news daily. Grief in this world is inescapable.
And yet, we are not a people without hope. We who are Christians know that this life is temporary. Some day we will go home-home to where there will be no grief, no sorrow.
But the hard thing is, what about now? Yes, we have assurance, as Christians, that we will go home, and o, how I long for that day! But what about the here and now? What about the grief and despair that life inevitably brings into our lives?
I certainly do not have all of the answers. I still feel very new to being different, new to belief. But I can examine my life and see that God, through his grace, grants joy. It is a gift. Joy is inexplainable. It is not happiness, though happiness can come with joy. No, instead it is something much deeper. Something much more settled. Something that is alive and brings hope out of despair.
My friends, I have known great fear. I have known deep despair and sorrow. I still know it–it blindsides me when I least expect it. I long for home. I long for relief. And I know many others have experienced deeper pain, deeper sorrow than I could ever imagine. And for that, I am deeply sorry. May God graciously grant you peace.
But in all that I have seen, heard, and lived, I have also known great joy. Deep and lasting joy. And that joy has not come from circumstances or situations. Instead that joy can only be explained as having been granted to be by God, by His grace. And thus my joy and sorrow travel the same road, companions of each other. But joy inexplicably outshines my sorrow, because my joy is of God. My sorrow is of this world.
Below is the first half of Psalm 30. I urge you to read it slowly. Often the second part of verse 5 is used to comfort those in despair. But taking it out of context seems to water-down what the Psalmist is trying to express. Use the Psalmist words to give voice to words that may be hard to utter for yourself–often times I find myself so grateful to the Psalm writers when I can’t find the words I need to express myself.
Also, I would suggest that you read “Surprised by Joy” by C.S. Lewis (whom I affectionately refer to as my uncle). He puts into words so much more eloquently the concept of joy and it’s relationship to salvation and to life. His book had a profound impact on my life.
Pray for each other, that we will know joy in the midst of this life. And not only that we will know it, but that we will recognize it for what it is-a gift from our God and a glimpse of what is to come.