Joy surprised me during my greatest grief

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Joy!  Jesus longs for us to have it.  In John 15:11 he says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Joy is part of the “fruit of the Spirit” manifested when we are totally submit to the Lord.  Joy is a gift and a blessing.

There are so many events in life that bring us to this place of joy: when someone declares their love for us, when one stands before the minister and says “I do!”, when that precious child is born and baptized, when we get a promotion or recognition for a job well done, when good friends go the extra mile for us…and the list goes on.

But what about the times when life is falling apart around us, or someone deeply wounds us within, when we lose the job, when we can’t conceive a child, when no one wants to marry us?

Can we still experience joy?

Thankfully, yes we can!  We won’t necessarily be happy, but there will be joy.  For joy is different than happiness because joy does not depend on circumstances. Joy is found in God’s presence, in remembering His faithfulness and mercy, in trusting His promises, in knowing one is sacrificially and unconditionally loved by God and He is our Abba.  Joy is letting go of anxiety and fear and resting in Him.  Joy is submitting to the work of The Spirit within us. Then even when circumstances are at their worst, we can be surprised by joy.

In fact, one of my greatest moments of joy was a total surprise to me for it was also the moment of my greatest grief.

Seven years ago, tomorrow, I was sitting by my husband’s hospital bed as he struggled to breathe.  That morning he told me he knew he was going home for his systems were shutting down and his eyesight was going.  By noon his room was filled with people who loved him: family, friends, former students. At 1 PM, he opened his eyes and said, “He’s really here!” and he died.

At that moment I felt a grief like no other – a sorrow too deep to put into words.

But what totally surprised me, was I also felt an equally strong sense of joy…pure joy!  Because David had been ushered into eternity by Jesus Himself.  He was not alone.  He was totally healed.  He now experiences the joy of seeing the face of Jesus and knowing (like we can’t know here on earth) how much he is loved by his Lord.  I can still clearly recall the surprise of the juxtaposition of those two intense feelings.

I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised because Jesus gave us this beautiful promise in John 16:20, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”

So, as I sit here in my study, typing this, I do have tears running down my cheeks for I still miss my precious husband so much, but I also have great joy in my heart because I remember all the blessings of having that amazing man in my life for 43 years.  I bring to mind many memories that are like precious gems which I take out and polish and offer up to God as a sacrifice of praise.  This is a day to let go, to trust, to recall, to rest…a day to be surprised by joy.

Dear reader, I don’t know what season of life you are in now.  Perhaps you can say with the Psalmist in 16:6, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Or perhaps you are in a place where life is uncertain, the pain is real, and the grief intense.

My prayer for you is that even if you can’t experience happiness, you will know joy.

Remember God’s past mercies, His faithfulness, His power, and most of all His love; and in doing so, may you be surprised by joy, too.

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