It’s easy when talking about grief to get caught up in the sadness, anger, and fear that are associated with a major loss. We tend to either forget about or avoid discussions of joy. For those going through a loss, often there is a struggle to be okay with experiencing moment of joy. Perhaps our joy is somehow dishonoring the loss.
I’ve been thinking a lot about joy in the midst of loss lately and then saw a couple of comments from a dear family I’ve known most of my life who recently went through another in a series of crippling losses. I’ve followed their story and prayed, knowing I can say and do nothing right now that would take away the hurt. I also don’t have the ability to offer practical, hands on help right now. As I’ve followed along, I’ve seen a common thread in their hurt: they feel they don’t have joy right now.
I actually disagree. My reason for that is not to interject an argument into a situation which doesn’t merit one, and I completely understand where they are coming from. In a time where tears and anger and the absolute crushing weight of grief are all we feel, we don’t feel like we have joy. But joy is not a feeling and it is not based on feelings. I’m going to contrast what I have seen from this family with what I experienced in the early days of one of my darkest times of loss.
This dear precious family has continued to cry out to God, to reach to Him, to point others to Him, and most importantly, even in their admitted anger over the situation, they have still chosen to worship Him. Contrast that with my early days of grief. I was in absolute despair and while I had initially chosen to worship God, I let my despair win out to the point where I no longer even talked to God or cracked open my Bible. I see in this family joy, not what we maybe think of in terms of joy. They aren’t excited and happy and shouting from the rooftops, but they are still intentionally putting their focus where it belongs. They aren’t hindering others from worshipping God by dragging them down with anger. They weep; they mourn; and they admit they are angry with God for the situation. But they are still relying on Him for every moment, for every breath. They know He is their Sustainer and Provider. That is joy.
There are moments where our joy is not simply clinging hold of God even as we weep. Moments where laughter and happiness accompany the joy. These are the moments where we may feel guilty. I remember distinctly the first time my family shared a meal together after a major loss and actually laughed together. The first time I heard myself laugh, I actually thought, “Oh no! I hope no one is mad at me for laughing.” No, you have to understand, we were all joking around together. It wasn’t like I laughed at something inappropriate. But there was still a moment of terror that maybe I had done something wrong.
Really though, those moments are necessary. We need laughter. We need to joke with one another. We need to let the full gamut of emotions bond us with those who experience grief alongside us. It helps us keep out of despair; it helps keep us grounded. Years down the road, we will still find moments of hurt, but we can’t live in the hurt. If we do, we become bitter, angry people and we lose joy. We lose our light.
Embrace moments of joy, hold them close, let them come. They are as unexpected as the tsunami waves of grief which bowl us over, but they help to balance out those times. They give us something to cling to when we feel like we are drowning in pain. They help those who walk the journey with us without understanding our pain have hope that we aren’t doomed to weep forever. They point those who see us hurting to Christ and the hope we have of Heaven.
Joy, whether it is clinging to God for all we are worth or combined with happiness, is a tremendous beacon to a lost and dying world that there is hope. It stands out. When we can still say, “I believe,” in the midst of terrible circumstances, those around us see that and wonder about us. When we can say more than, “I will see them again some day,” our words speak volumes. When we can say, “I don’t understand; I hurt; I am angry. But I know my God is sovereign and good and will sustain me,” people notice. Our words mean so much more than they ever would have had we not gone through hard times because we speak not from a lofty, unattainable place, but a relatable place. When a glimpse of joy pops through, we find not only that we are warmed by it, but others are as well. So embrace those moments. They may feel out of place at first, but eventually they feel more natural.