My last post was when Russia invaded Ukraine. I have not been able to find words since then to post again. I don’t write just to write. I wait patiently (I think) on God to guide me in what I share. Every time I thought I might write in the last weeks, I just couldn’t.
In the last post, I shared the fear I felt deep in my gut when I heard the invasion news. I shared about our Ukrainian neighbors and how we are all connected. I shared about our son in the US Army and how this all hits pretty close to home when your own soldier might have to be activated because of the world situation. Not one of those feelings has changed. When news comes my way (I no longer seek it out), I read it almost with my eyes nearly shut or listen with my hands over my ears because I really can’t bear the heartache that’s happening now and the ripple effects it has for our whole world.
So please appreciate with me, the wonder and surprise I feel that God’s calling me to write about joy. How’s that for something that makes no sense?
A friend who recently lost her dad recommended that I read a book, The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell. I always get the books my friends recommend; they know me better than I know myself. Gorrell, an ordained pastor, was hired by Yale University to study joy when her world imploded. Within a few weeks of accepting the joy position, she lost a family member to suicide, her father to a fatal opioid addiction and her nephew, age 22, to sudden cardiac arrest. She wrote, My vocation was supposed to be joy, and I was speaking at funerals.
She struggled deeply with her own grief and despair yet ended up finding joy in the strangest place, a maximum-security women’s prison where she led a Bible study. The women there had suffered extensively but still showed a tremendous capacity for joy. She realized Joy doesn’t obliterate grief….Instead, joy has a mysterious capacity to be felt alongside sorrow and even–sometimes most especially–in the midst of suffering.
On a bridge between Ukraine and Romania there are now toys lining both sides of the passageway, so when children are relocating with their families, seeking refuge in another country, they can choose a toy. The soldiers stationed on the bridge dance silly dances to make the children laugh. This is joy despite the circumstances.
It is that same unexpected joy that brings laughter to funerals. I’ve been to two this week where funeral laughter saved us.
I still don’t have adequate words for all that is happening in our world. Our army son came home for two days this week. We talked about Ukraine and Russia and possibilities for how that might impact him.
Then, without declaring that we were changing topics, we just started listening to songs for our mother/son dance for his September wedding. Music makes space for joy and that’s where we hung out for a while, right there between worry and a frightening global reality. We allowed ourselves to dream about the future, when we actually have no idea what will happen. We joked how awkward that dance will be if he isn’t able to attend his own wedding. We laughed because we had to.
As usual our Bible turns everything upside down. James 1:2-4 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (NLT)
Having joy in troubled times makes as much sense as having the peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Our Bible acknowledges that the gifts of joy and peace make no sense. We cannot understand them. We can only receive them.
After her difficult, gut-wrenching losses, joy researcher, Angela Williams Gorrell concluded that joy walks hand in hand with suffering and sorrow and that certain conditions open the gateway to joy: gratitude, music, lament, being present in the here and now, community, realizing we are part of something bigger than we are and, of course, love.
I have to believe it is love paving the way for joy that places toys along refugee bridges and has soldiers dancing to make children laugh.
After Christmas, I don’t know why, but I left out all my joy decorations. I left the kitchen towel that just says JOY hanging on the handle of my oven. I have a plant in a tin that says JOY. A friend gave me a wooden JOY cutout that is nestled by my sink. My daughter gave me a worn wooden sign which also just says JOY. I left it out too. As 2022 dawned, I didn’t know there would be mountains. I didn’t know there would be war. I somehow knew in my soul, it was no time to put joy away in the attic, so I didn’t.
Are you, like me, having some troubles, mountains or worries? Our Bible says take heart, as strange and backwards as it seems, joy can still be yours.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor and Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. Go to http://www.drcindryryanblog.com to see her upcoming speaking engagements, read more blogs and to sign up for her Inner Circle monthly email top ten list.