I remember sitting next to the bed of one of my mentors and holding her hand as she was dying of cancer.
I remember looking into the grief-stricken eyes of a mother who had just lost her son to substance abuse.
I remember wrapping my arms around my friend as we lamented experiences of blatant racism and prejudice.
These memories from my past are filled with sorrow.
Sorrow finds its way into our lives. We all face it at some point, often sooner than later. Sometimes it is personal. Sometimes it is communal. But it is always painful.
And often, pain strikes us when we least expect. It also changes us. Pain reveals humanity’s brokenness. It casts light on our frailty and finiteness.
Yet as I take time to reflect, my memories are coupled with another emotion.
In the sorrow, there is a glimmer of something that is hard to explain. If I am not careful, I will miss it every time.
It is a feeling that is both far away and very present. It is both overwhelming and hard to pinpoint.
It is not happiness. It is akin to peace, but it is not that either. It is deeper and more encompassing than both. It seems to be an unexplainable, deep sense of goodness and hope.
This feeling has a name.
It is joy.
And quite frankly, it feels like an unexpected visitor. What is joy doing here? In the midst of my deep sorrow and pain?
We tend to overlook joy. Or perhaps we do not recognize it. Maybe because joy has been reduced to a synonym for happiness. But joy is more than that.
Happiness is dictated by circumstance. Joy is not. Happiness is triggered from outside of us. Joy is cultivated within us. Happiness ebbs and flows. Joy is constant and ever-present.
Joy comes from a relationship with Jesus.
Joy is the fruit of God’s work in our lives. It is connected to the person and character of God. Therefore, joy is present in our deepest sorrow and grief. It is the fragrance of Immanuel—God with us.
For the Jesus-follower, joy travels alongside us through the seasons of life. G. K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy that joy is “the gigantic secret of the Christian.”
He also observed:
There was something that He [Jesus] hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.
There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. . . . There was something that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth [joy].
We long for that same goodness. We anticipate that God will heal all wounds and wipe away our tears. We have this great hope that God, our Father, will make all things new (see Revelation 21).
Therefore, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3-5).
I cannot resolve the tension created by joy in the midst of my sorrow.
But I can sit next to my mentor dying of cancer. I can look into the eyes of a mother who lost her son. I can embrace my friend in the midst of injustice. And I can grieve . . . with hope.
Because there is a gigantic secret. There is an unexpected visitor. Indeed, it is joy in the midst of sorrow.
Linson serves as the Area Director in North Texas/Oklahoma for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. He loves teaching, playing music, leading worship, playing volleyball, writing, blogging, playing board games, and making people laugh. He and his wife, Betina, along with their two beautiful children, live in Texas. You can read more from Linson at his blog.