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Surprised by Joy*

So Jude asks me, “Where is the joy in carrying our cross? Where is the joy that comes with dying? All this talk about grief and suffering, how does this idea of the joy of the Lord being within us fit into that picture?”
It's a tough question. One that I've struggled with a long time, and mostly ended up ignoring because I was never fully satisfied with the answers I could think of. Now I feel like I've started to discover an answer, it came through one of those, “can't see the forest for the trees” sort of moments.
As I told the guys at the shelter I was leaving, a lot of them made comments about how positive a presence I was, how I always had a ready smile, that sort of thing. One of my best friends there said to me, “Man, you're the happiest person I know.” I got to thinking about this and remembered how kids at the drop-in had said the same thing when I left there, “You've always got a smile for me… no matter how the day is going you're always happy to see us.” These people see me as a joyful person.
Which is funny because all my friends from Christian circles tend to see me as sad or critical or pessimistic. That's also the way I've always tended to see myself. I feel like I spend far more time “mourning with those who mourn” than “rejoicing with those who rejoice.”
And that's when it hit me. In my reflections on this I discovered the joy we have in the midst of carrying crosses. I feel like the cross I carry is often the suffering and grief of the homeless, abandoned and oppressed that I journey with. Yet these are people I love dearly. Of course I smile when I see them, it's a delight for me to see them. Of course I laugh with them, they're beautiful and brilliant. Therein lies the joy. I am journeying in love relationships. I love these men, these kids, these people, and – amazingly – they love me! How can the joy that brings me not be reflected in my relationships with them?
So there the paradox finds its resolution. On one hand there is a genuine cross and a deep suffering that comes with journeying with people who are broken at a level I will never experience. On the other hand there is genuine joy and delight that comes with journeying with beautiful and brilliant people that I love and that love me.

*Taken from the title of a C.S. Lewis book. He means it in a different way but, dang, it's such an appropriate quote for this situation.

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  1. So, joy is seeing (and knowing) beauty in the “ugly”; seeing health in the “unhealthy”; seeing right in the wronged; seeing Jesus in the “unJesuses” (which I’m guessing is part of the reason that you smile and love people)…and in seeing these things the “ugly”, the “unhealthy”, the wronged, & the “unJesuses” see the beauty, the health, the right, and the Jesus in themselves & in you? Perhaps, further, it is a joy in bringing the gospel – the kingdom of healing & restoration – to others? And, again, in turn receiving love from others? Really, just being friends with people?
    Makes sense to me, in idea, and from my limited unselfish experiences with others. In a way, I hoped that this would be the answer. It still does feel an incomplete joy (which may be due to the paradox you refer to). But, as you once said to me joy is brought to fulfillment through mourning (maybe you could expand on or clarify this…) in this present inbetween age – kingdom here & not-yet here – that we live in.
    As I read your comment it all seemed so obvious and clear. There is so much joy in allowing, enabling, empowering or whatever you want to call it others to love you. Personally, I just prefer to think of it as being friends with people.
    (It is interesting to observe how people treat “outcasts”. “Outcasts” become charity projects; people that boundaries need to be placed around. Then, as a result of the combination of their pain and this “charity” treatment people start to fit the mould that we place them into. There is something that dehumanizes us when we are unable to interact as friends with other people, when we become peoples projects.)
    So anyways all I really wanted to say was that joy comes in friendship. And, joy comes in bringing and sharing the kingdom to and with others.
    I’m enjoying the journal.

  2. Crazy, this post is almost identical to mine on this issue. Though it’s a world of sorrow and misery I work in, I absolutely love it and I’m always happy at the health centre. I used to be miserable living in a “happy” world, now I’m happy living in a “miserable” world.
    I believe that true joy comes from meeting God’s purpose for your life, and the setting in which you do that can’t change the joy.
    See my blog for more info…

  3. Actually, I think they’re more different than they may appear to be on the surface. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not happy living in a miserable world and I don’t think I ever will be. That was a bit of what I was getting at about challenging you into entering some prophetic grieving. That’s genuine grief.
    Right now I think you’re still in the honeymoon stage of your work, it’s new, exciting, romantic – and it’s a stage most people go through, I mean, we’re all learning compassion, we’re all learning empathy. It’s a journey for all of us. See how you feel after a couple of years. See how happy you are in a miserable world, or how much you just want all the misery to end. How badly, how desperately you want it all to be over and done with.