In an online conversation a couple of months ago, one of the women who is active at A Life Overseas said this: “Sorrow and joy can coexist under the umbrella of grace.”*
Moms and dads feel it. One kid rejoices with a a new job, while the other kid loses their livelihood. One daughter has a miscarriage, another rejoices in a birth. One child is brilliant, the other struggles with every learning task.
Medical professionals feel it – one person is diagnosed with cancer while another walks out of the hospital with a newborn baby. One person has a child that was born prematurely and will have lifelong needs while another gives birth to an Olympic athlete.
Refugees and internally displaced people feel it. The grief of loss walks beside the relief and joy of survival. They continue to survive, they create a new normal, but it is not without the deep wounds of loss and pain. As a young woman in Iraq said to me a year ago: “There are only two choices – to stop living or to continue living. We choose to continue living.”
Humans in general feel it. Sorrow walking beside Joy; Joy keeping in step with sorrow. They are somehow deeply connected.
During the Advent season, the sorrow-joy continuum is profoundly present. Joy comes early morning when most of my world is still asleep. It is then that I sit by our Christmas tree and for a short time, all of life makes sense. Sorrow comes soon after. Our city is cold and the homeless huddle in doorways bundled in dull, grey blankets. Joy comes as I greet the fruit man from Albania; ever-generous with his gifts of bananas and apples. Sorrow comes as I skim the news – it is all too much to bear. Lights still sparkle in a market where 12 died from a lorry crashing through, seemingly intent on destruction. Sorrow comes as I read yet another story of Aleppo. “How long, O Lord? How Long?” The Psalmist’s words from long ago could not be more pertinent.
But Joy doesn’t stay away. It’s around the next corner as two colleagues and I laugh about an incident at work. Joy continues as I click on a photo my daughter sends me of my grandson
Our world may be weary of tragedy; it may be broken and hurting, but we are dishonest if we do not acknowledge the moments of absolute joy.
It seems no matter how difficult life is, we can find our moments of joy. Like sprinkles on cookies, or glitter on a bag that seems to get on everything it touches, Joy can’t be contained.
A couple of years after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers, there was a terrorist attack on the International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. The attack felt personal. It was a church we had attended for a year and a half while living in Islamabad; a church my oldest brother had pastored; and it was a church where many of our friends worshiped. There were several of our friends present in the church that day, one was Robynn’s father. Another was a friend who was there with her husband and small children. In the attack she shielded her small child from flying shrapnel and was severely injured in the process.
In a poignant letter describing the event, she and her husband speak of the indescribable joy she felt in saving her son.
I wanted to save my boy. I knew I was hurt badly, but when I looked down and saw that Iain was unhurt, in the midst of the pain and shock of the blast I felt an indescribable joy, knowing that I had taken the violence intended for him.
In the face of terrible violence and possible death, my friend felt indescribable joy at saving her boy.
This is the absurdity and irrationality of my Christian faith; an absurdity and irrationality that I will continue to hold on to for all my days. In the midst of suffering, in the midst of sorrow, there can exist indescribable joy.
The longer you live, the more you realize that life can change in a second. You can be shopping at a market with no worry of safety and the next minute be in the midst of a tragedy. You can be happily sipping a cocktail at a holiday party and receive a phone call that changes your life. We can fight this, we can scream that it is unfair, we can grow bitter, or we can live the continuum under an umbrella of grace.
It really is our choice.