Sorrow and Joy: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn to joy. ~ John 16:20

If Christianity is anything it must be joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The angels sing we bring you good news of great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10). Richard Foster writes, “Joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong.”

I agree completely. Love and joy are foundational to who we are. Choose joy. “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day,” says Henri Nouwen.

Yes, joy.

Yet, over the past three weeks with the passing of my beloved mother (she gave birth to me, bandaged my wounds, picked me up when I was down, and nurtured me into adulthood), with her passing I have been reintroduced to old acquaintances: sorrow, pain, and grief. I did not invite them into my life; they are houseguests who arrived unexpectedly.

I walk into Mom’s room, see shadows, and feel the empty void. I expect to see Mom coming around the corner with her beautiful smile and blue eyes, her faithful dog Angel trotting by her side, but there’s only silence.

The first few days after Mom died her phone continued to ring. I did not have the strength to answer it and tell whoever was calling the news. I just let it ring “for whom the bells toll.” Oh, and then there are the regrets. I should have listened to more of her stories. I should have taken more walks with her. I should have been more present. The sorrow and grief cuts deep and who will bandage my wound now?

“Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves,” says the Reverend Jacqui Lewis.

We know what it is like to feel numb, to struggle to get up in the morning, to wonder if life will ever be good again. Is there grace and hope and light in our grief? The pain of our world? Does grief serve a purpose?

Sorrow and grief break open our hearts, and what do we find there? Suffering reminds us that we have a heart and the capacity to love, says Cuong Lu. Henri Nouwen in Finding My Way Home writes, “The heart is the center of our being where God comes to dwell with us and bring us the divine gifts of trust, hope, and love.” And a joy not of this world.

One morning, before the sun came up, I was sitting and praying in mom’s recliner in her bedroom. I lit a small votive candle which flickered in the darkness. My thoughts turned to despair. Longing. The if’s and but’s. The guilt. The regrets. The “I wish I would have done this.”

The record played over and over in my mind. Then I heard a voice, not audible, but distinguishable. “I love you.” “What,” I said in my prayer. “I love you,” the presence said. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I just love you. You do not earn love. You don’t obtain love. You don’t pass a test, so you are lovable. You are loved.” A dawning of joy came from within my heart. It’s hard to explain. Perhaps John Wesley said it best, “My heart felt strangely warmed.”

Sitting in my mom’s chair in the pre-dawn darkness a wonderful joy flowed from my heart. I was loved, accepted, forgiven, and restored. Does the light come in and out through brokenness? My sorrow remained but the joy was greater than my pain. “Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin,” writes Cuong Lu.

Joy is the gift of love, our foundation. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (see Romans 8:39).

“Joy and sadness can live together within us at the same time, and afterwards we learn never to despair because of the dark sides of things. The dark side is never the whole, although in the short term if often appears to be,” writes Richard Rohr.

“We will weep and mourn, but our pain will turn into joy” (John 16:20). May we trust that “even when it seems dark and cold, joy will arise” says Lu. We are not alone. God’s Love accepts, heals, and fills us with contagious joy over time. The sun does rise. Amen.

Blessings, peace, and joy,