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building in joy

This time of year, it’s like there’s a competition to see how much happy we can stuff into our lives. We know it’s incredibly futile, but we are gonna try by hook or by crook. Whether it’s that shelf elf or the 25 days of really quickly written Hallmark movies, we do our darndest to focus on the sweet stuff and push all the dark and dim aside.

When my husband was dating me, he would talk to people about the hope of our future together. He said something like he didn’t want to cry less – and he cried a whole lot over the death of his first marriage, the heartbreak of watching his kids struggle emotionally and sometimes fall apart. He cried over the pain of betrayal and the longing to feel whole again after the ripping apart that comes with divorce. He cried over being dirt poor, poverty never really hitting him as hard as it did in those years, waiting in line for government assistance, feeling like a failure and having to answer for himself at every turn. It was debilitating at times. And that doesn’t even include the cancer diagnosis and months of chemo, and all those dark nights curled in physical anguish on the floor.

This is a great post, huh?! Life is so dark and painful. It is so crippling at times, unexpected and even expected things fall on us like a ton of bricks and we do all we can to muster the courage and strength to break out from under it all.

I share all of this about my husband – not because he’s perfect and we should all be like him, though I do honestly believe if we were all a little more like him, we would be much better off – because of what he would say next. After saying, “I don’t want to cry less,” he said, “I do want to laugh more.” And he would tell people that he and I laugh together a lot. It isn’t that we don’t cry together. We certainly do our fair share of crying. We have had pain along the way. We’ve had difficult circumstances to navigate. We have spent sleepless nights wondering what is going to happen tomorrow. We’ve watched the effects of sin and selfishness on those we love and on ourselves. We’ve experienced our own sinfulness at work, kneading through our souls like yeast in dough, and trying on our own to separate it out. Futile. Obviously.

You see, joy isn’t about ignoring the dark. It isn’t about trying to smooth over or sweep under the rug so that we can get on with our glee. Joy is, in fact, recognizing the very things that are warring against it and having a bird’s eye view of the battle. We get caught on the ground, in the mud, in the fog of war, wounded and covered in blood. We get caught up in the agony and chaos of the battle, often forgetting what we’re even here for.

And too often, and most often at this time of year, even Christians, even The Church loses her way. Even The Church finds itself trying to muster up some merriment. We have cute pageants (complete with biblically-incorrect children angels … *cough*… who me?) and we create fun, festive events so that people can feel good about coming to the church facility that one of two times a year or so… not pointing any fingers of course. We love you love you love you.

But, I think, in a general way, it’s a little like churches are just giving people band-aids to get through the week while most of us need major surgery. We’re just not willing to do it. We want relative comforts and are tired of being told we are sinful and need to change. But we’re pretty ok with saying all THOSE people are sinners and need to change. And we forget that we ARE those people too. Churches do the “circle the wagons” thing and isolate/protect themselves instead of putting on armor and running out to rescue the lost. Instead of taking stock of what we believe when times get tough or when things don’t go the way we thought they should, we hide. We isolate. We point fingers. We dry up. We lack joy.

What are we living FOR? That’s the question we have to keep asking. If it’s anything other than for the glory of God and the beauty of His Kingdom, we’ll end up with more tears than laughs. We have to. This life is full of tears. In this world, we will have many troubles. But we know the next line – take heart! Jesus has overcome the world! (John 16:33 ESV)

Jesus has overcome. He already has. Past tense. We celebrate His birth because we know that it established the sequence of events that must happen to make all things new. We know already – here and now – that he has overcome. We know already – here and now – that he has come to make his blessings flow… far as the curse is found. That is truly a reason to have JOY.

Maybe your joy is broken this year. Maybe you can’t muster any longer and you’re tired of trying. Don’t. Joy isn’t mustered. It’s a gift. It’s a deep longing and a recognition of the war in our hearts. Start on the battlefield. Look around at the wounded and dying. Then ask Jesus to meet you there and in time he will lift you up high above the ground and show you the bird’s eye view. It’s there you see the scene clearly. It’s there you find the pieces are too hard to fit together now, but fit they do. And all our tears will be wiped away and all the glory – the glimpses of which we have seen and tasted and felt – will be revealed.

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