I usually don’t participate in #ThrowbackThursday on Facebook, mainly because I never think to pull out any pictures to share. But this week I’ve enjoyed looking at my friend Denise Russell Reagan’s older pics she as posted as she has been going through old picture albums. Someone else, though I can’t remember who, has also used these snow days to look through old photo albums and post pictures.
So today I dug out my dusty box with our pictures in it. It used to be much fuller. But after Jack went to prison and our divorce, there came a day that it was just too painful to hold on to many of those pictures, and I threw much away, including all of our wedding photos and my baptism photos.
But there are a few photos from happier days that I kept. I made sure each child still has a picture of him or her with their father. And today I came across 3 pictures of Mark’s baptism by Jack, in the ocean of Hawaii.
And now I wish I had kept my baptismal pictures.
Because looking at Mark’s baptism pictures today brought me much joy. That, even though he is struggling with church and Christianity right now (which I can completely relate to), I have the assurance that He knows that there is a God who loves him very much. How do I know he knows this? Because we discuss it. A lot. And honestly. Which is a gift from God in and of itself.
I showed him his baptism pictures today, which prompted another painful yet wonderful conversation. Can something be painful and wonderful all at the same time? Yes, I know that it can, because I have experienced both intense joy and intense suffering in conjecture with each other.
Take my baptism. I was baptized at Seaford Baptist Church by my then husband. It was a special time, an intimate time between me and my God, and a small group of amazing friends. On Easter Sunday Evening. A beautiful Sunday.
For a long time after Jack’s arrest and our subsequent divorce, I couldn’t bear to think about my baptism. I felt robbed in a way–robbed of the joy, because of my extreme sorrow in losing my husband to his choice of heinous crime. Robbed by God. I even questioned my baptism and it’s validation for a time.
But now, I remember my baptism with both joy and pain. Pain, of course, over the suffering that was to follow that fall after my baptism. But that pain is vastly overshadowed by the realization of what baptism is, and the joy–the celebration!–that baptism is. The music that played, the songs that we sang, the scripture that was read, and then the actual depiction of being buried in death to myself, and raised to newness in life with my Jesus.
And that is what I want for my son to remember, so I’ll hang on to his baptism pictures there in the ocean, with his father, knowing that the most important part is the joy of His heavenly father at Mark’s obedience in baptism.
This is just one example of many that illustrates the importance of and the ability to find joy in the midst of suffering. Our God provides this joy. It may not seem like it is joy when you are in the midst of the suffering—I struggled for a long time to see the joy in my baptism—but when God grants you perspective, so many times there are moments of joy even in the midst of tremendous suffering. Maybe it’s a friend who ministers deeply to you in your time of need. Maybe it is something like sensing the presence of God in such a way that doesn’t make logical sense at the time. Or maybe it’s your child’s smile in the midst of tremendous grief.
We have to hold on to those moments. I have to hold on to those moments. Because when the darkness of depression descends, which it does frequently, it is often these moments of joy that either keep me out of the deep pit or keep me from falling into that pit–that dark, cold, lonely place of depression.
C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled “Surprised by Joy”. It’s essentially his autobiography, with a lot of focus on how he became a believer. Great book; but I especially like the title. Surprised by joy. I have been surprised by joy today in the form of pictures of my ex-husband baptizing my son, and remembering my very own baptism. I am grateful for these moments today in the midst of fighting off deep depression, because they remind me that my Savior sees, knows and loves each of us so.
I can’t think of a better passage that describes this than 1 Peter 3:1-9. Read it. Slowly. Let the words work on your soul.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
O God, there is so much suffering in the world. Show us the joy. Show us the true focus which should be on you and the proclamation of your name. God it’s so hard, when we are in the midst of the suffering, to see the joy. Even worse, it is so hard to sense Your presence in the midst of extreme suffering. Remind us that you are there. Remind us in our depression and despair that you are there. Remind us in our waiting–such as Joseph’s waiting for many years–that you are still there and have not forgotten us; and that your work will be done. Help our unbelief. Help my unbelief. Amen. Amen.