Reader, this season is hard.
If I could sit across the table from you, cup of coffee in hand, and pour out all that is on my heart, I’d share how I’m feeling cooped up, isolated, a little bit anxious and a lotta bit lonely. I’d share how my moods are changing by the hour, and how though some days I feel like I can identify and embrace all the beauty and joy there is to be found in this season; most days, I’m battling for joy and rejoicing is painful. I’d share how I’m finding so much to be thankful for, yet mourning the loss of so much. And I’d tell you how I’m feeling guilty about my struggle because I have been infinitely blessed and so many of my neighbors haven’t been. I’d tell you how most days I question who I am to consider this season one of suffering.
And I’d ask you the same questions I’ve been asking God.
Questions like: How do we rejoice in this season of suffering, isolation and loneliness? What does it look like to give thanks when so many people are losing and living in desperation? In this season of emotional frailty and weakness, where do we find the strength to rejoice in the Lord? When all we have are hard emotions, exhausted hearts, and weary minds, how do we embrace the command to rejoice?
Do we muster up “good” emotions? Do we look for the silver lining? Do we try to fake it ‘til we make it? And what about that thing called joy? Is it there and we just can’t find it? Or are we doing joy wrong?
I don’t think God beckons believers toward a fake, feelings-based rejoicing that requires us to muster up the kind of joy we think we’re supposed to have. But I do think he calls us to be glad in him. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, ESV.)
Yes, it is a command. But, something I find so gracious about the stories in the Bible is that we don’t see a bunch of people rejoicing in their triumph; we see people rejoicing while their losing – losing the respect of their peers, losing their possessions, losing their plans, their freedom, their families, and their lives.
And aren’t we all losing a bit right now? Losing jobs, time with family and friends, daily routines, simple joys, maybe even losing loved ones? And if you’re like me, I’m realizing how many of those things are what I often depend on to meet some of my deepest needs – like my need for relationship, security, and comfort.
Only after losing some of these blessings have I realized how so much of my rejoicing has been tied to God’s gifts to me, rather than to God’s love for me.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:17-19a, ESV.)
As I read this passage, I wonder if maybe this season of losing has the ability to return us to a place of true rejoicing. I wonder if now, when there is so little left to turn to for relationship, comfort, and distraction, maybe one of the beautiful ways God is using this temporary affliction is to call us back to the foundation of every good thing we have: Him.
After so much hustling, and so many distractions, and so much seeking, maybe God is using a season that could be only about sickness and suffering and death, to instead show us his graciousness by making beauty out of the ashes of all we have lost. And now, when so many of us have run out of places to look to for our daily joy, he is there, calling us to take joy in Him, the God of our salvation.
Habakkuk rejoiced before his circumstances improved and before his feelings made sense. He showed us that joy isn’t something we wait around for; it’s something we take. Despite all the suffering, all the loss, and all the hopelessness tied to this pandemic – joy is still there for us to take hold of and hold on to.
Reader, maybe rejoicing has nothing to do with our feelings and everything to do with our obedience. I’m not saying God’s asking us to set aside our true feelings and rejoice. I think he’s asking us to rejoice by bringing all our true feelings to him, trusting that the same God who bore the weight of our brokenness and the weight of a broken world, can bear the weight of all we are feeling and carrying right now.
I don’t have the answer for all of the feelings that come with this season, but I do know that there is always a new song to sing to the Lord – a song of joy, or sorrow, or gratitude, or loss. Rejoicing can look like celebrating and rejoicing over the beauty and glory of life, and it can also look like praising God for sending a Savior who identifies with our suffering and comforts us in the midst of it. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5, ESV.)
And maybe this season sounds a little bit like all of those songs combined. Maybe it sounds like all of those painful emotions, good convictions, beautiful gifts, and desperate sorrows giving birth to a new song – giving birth to the hard hallelujah – a song full of paradoxes. One filled with mourning and rejoicing. A beautiful song of sorrow. A dance between the Garden and the Resurrected City.
The song that brings us back to the fire of our joy.
We haven’t lost it reader – our reason for rejoicing. Because it isn’t tied to a silver lining, a fleeting emotion, or our changing circumstances; it’s tied to Jesus.
Where do we find the strength to rejoice, reader? We find it in Him.
Because our joy isn’t tied to our needs being met; it’s tied to the Provider who understands our every need and meets each one himself (Luke 12:29-31.)
Our joy isn’t tied to our ability to handle the weight of a burdened and broken world; it’s tied to the One who calls us to lay our burdens at his feet and rest in his peace trusting he will provide (Matthew 11:28-30.)
Our joy isn’t tied to our health and our safety; it’s tied to our Healer – the Great Physician who gave sight to the blind, made the lame man walk, healed the leper, and raised the dead to life (Matthew 4:24.)
And our joy isn’t tied to our ability to put on a courageous face and face the day; it’s tied to the Mighty Lion who roars in the face of our fears, and offers comfort to the fearful follower (John 14:27.)
Reader, our joy is not tied to the fragments of a broken, sinful world; it’s tied to the Savior whose body was broken to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29.)
Jesus paved the way. We are not pioneering the hard hallelujah; we are leaning into the rejoicing that Jesus has already made possible. Because of Jesus: in our isolation, we are not orphans. In our sickness, we are not without a physician. In our suffering, we are not without comfort. In our uncertainty, we are not a people without a leader. In our death, we are not slaves of the grave.
We are called children of the Living God. We are cared for by our Good Shepherd, our God who is mighty to save. We are heirs of Christ’s righteousness and are sons and daughters of the King. And we are victorious over death because Jesus is risen (Matthew 28:6.)
Reader, Jesus made it possible to rejoice in the Lord even in this season. Rejoicing isn’t always a beautiful song of joyful praise; sometimes, it’s messy and it sounds like sorrow and tears and a heart-wrenching ache. But rejoicing in Jesus is the way to joy. This is not a season for believers to wait around for God to act. This is a season for us to show the world that he already has.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV)