Was my pastor out of her mind? How could she say that we can have joy no matter what the circumstances surrounding us? Wasn’t I sitting in this chair just a few weeks after a car accident that left me with two swollen, bruised kneecaps and five displaced ribs? Wasn’t I cringing under a load of guilt behind the fact that it was my fault? I totaled two cars and hurt another driver. If my knees could bend, I would be attempting to kick my own rear end. Bring on the joy.
Hadn’t I just received news of a devastating tragedy that befell a family I adore? Hadn’t I just been made aware, again, of a family relationship that no matter what I do will never be healed to the point of reunion? How do you find joy in the face of stories about one family member being seriously mistreated at the hands of another? Right, let’s join in the happy dance.
But there stood my pastor saying it really is possible to have joy no matter what trials we are facing and what questions loom over us. I love my pastor and never leave one of her messages without a nugget of truth and comfort. That day I chose to rage against the stubborn silence that fell like an impermeable granite wall in front of my questions.
I spent the next several mornings on my back porch meditating and watching it rain. It seemed to me it was going to rain forever. Worse, yet, it seemed like it had been raining forever. I wondered if we would be in for a dreary season from April until November. There was another question. There was more silence.
One particularly wet, bleak morning, I stared into the faces of my twin enemies – anger and confusion. They were collaborating to mask the deep pain gnawing at me and the authentic feelings that could set me free if I would allow them out from behind the silent screaming. I couldn’t believe all this had happened within a month. I fought, I reasoned, and I demanded answers. All that came was the flood of water from clouds that mirrored darkness of my despair.
I realized verbal fighting was not working. So, I chose to throw myself onto a couch and beat my fists into pillows as if I could extract a truth that would take away the grief, guilt and helplessness. My ribs groaned, and my knees sent sharp, protesting throbs all the way to my toes. Finally, out of physical and mental exhaustion, I plummeted down into a place I feared would be my emotional home for many days. I made a conscious decision to submit, lay down the tools of battle, and let go. It continued to rain. I continued to pour my heart out to God. Was Pastor Ashley out of her mind?
Then I heard it. It was faint at first but grew louder as my sobs subsided. It was the song of children at play in the neighbor’s backyard. I pulled my tear-soaked, limping self to the patio door and opened it to determine if my ears were playing tricks on me.
How could the wee ones be playing, laughing and even squabbling on this dark day? Didn’t they know that many worlds had been rocked by unspeakable sadness? Didn’t they know my heart was breaking for all that was broken in my world and the worlds of many I love? Didn’t they know it was cold and raining?
No, they knew nothing of the events or weather patterns. All they knew was they were going to live and laugh today, no matter what nature or the world presented. In their pure child wisdom they rejected the preset template of a day defined by externals.
I stepped outside and stood in the rain, listening to their little squeals, as I looked over the hedge separating our yards. I saw them jumping in puddles and delighting in this, even this – a downpour of chilly water. They danced in pools among patches of grass made green by relentless moisture.
The joyful chorus of song and dance was joined by robins flitting around the children. No doubt the robins were looking for food but took time to lend voices to the symphony of a fresh day. I smiled, breathed in the smell of clean air and thanked God for the laughter of children. I thanked Him for the robins and rain. I walked closer to the fence, “Hi Miss Laura,” they called in unison between giggles. I blew a kiss to two of my favorite wee people.
It wasn’t long before the guilt came back. How could I allow myself to be drafted into their little world? I should not feel joy on any level. It wasn’t time yet. No I should not find joy right now.
But I did. For a brief moment my heart lifted, I saw parting of mental clouds, if not physical ones. I remembered a quote I had heard about joy being a spiritual discipline. New questions surfaced. How does one get their joy back? What does it mean to be disciplined? Was my heart so heavy because I am undisciplined, unintelligent, and unable to make sense of a world that can be senseless?
“You want some lunch? Honey, please come in now. It’s cold and you’re dressed like it’s 85 degrees. Please come in now,” my husband called from inside the patio doors.
“In a minute,” I answered, not wanting to leave this moment. There were still questions and guilt to deal with. I thought maybe, just maybe, answers were in the sights, sounds and smells of this early May scene playing out before and around me. I opened my right hand, allowing rain drops to hit my palm and stared at each while praying one drop would hold a key to unlock the door to my prison of pain. I was not willing to trade my miniscule slice of peace for a retro reach into the past several weeks of hell on earth.
When I did come in, I ate in silence. I was soaking wet and Keith cast a worried eye over me all through lunch as he attempted to make small talk.
After lunch, I went to my special prayer room where I could be alone, in my secret space, with God. As I started my little water fountain and lit a candle, I heard a small voice say, “Joy is a spiritual discipline. Like all things it takes practice, patience and persistence.”
I blew out the match, dropped my head and said, “Okay, Lord. I get it.” The discipline is not in owning joy but in intentionally seeking it. It is in the awareness of children’s voices, new spring growth, tiny birds, and the cleansing heavenly waters. It is in looking for, enjoying and not allowing guilt to overshadow the joys of this day we are given to live.
The work of finding joy is sometimes found while standing in pain with others while waiting and believing there will be a sliver of sunlight through the blinding darkness. The hard work of spiritual discipline is found in an obedient posture of seeking but not demanding answers. Finding joy is about resting in the one who has the answers, and still trusting Him when the answers are never revealed.
I resolved to not dishonor myself by shoving aside questions and grief under a pillow of anger. Instead I chose to allow time needed to process that which may not ever be processed thoroughly. I openly gave myself permission to heal. And I resolved to find the laughter, singing birds, and love that are all around if I practice the discipline of active pursuit, even in the darkest days.
When I turned off the fountain, blew out the candle and returned to a day that held a long to-do list, I came away with a new belief. Eventually the joyful moments will stay longer and crowd out, or minimize, the moments where hopelessness and helplessness reign supreme.
I moved slowly (very slowly) out of my special space, kissed my concerned husband and said, “Maybe Pastor isn’t out of her mind after all.”