How can I have joy when I'm so sad?
A sincere and godly friend of mine recently asked me a version of this question and mentioned that it might be worth writing about it. For the next few weeks I searched for words that I might be able to offer on the subject, but it wasn’t until today that I found them.
I was listening to a podcast and the creator of it was speaking about an experience he’d recently had. Some really horrible things had happened to he and his family, but at the end of the week full of horrible things, something amazing and healing had happened too. He was noting that just because this amazing thing happened, it didn’t cancel out all of the horrible things or their repercussions that he was still dealing with. He was struggling with grief over the events, even as he was experiencing joy over the redemption that had taken place.
Our society is coming out of an era that pushed positivity and happiness into toxicity. The pursuit of happiness was the point of everything, and to get there we needed to “stay positive” in everything. This left most of us faking, avoiding, and hiding as we navigated the reality of brokenness in this present world. It also made us more selfish and self-centered, as we ignored the plight of others around us in an attempt to stay in our “happy bubble”. Happiness became more elusive than ever as we filled ourselves up with unprocessed pain and, in many ways, are still suffering the consequences.
The Church, too, was overtaken by this philosophy. We felt the pressure to be “more happy” than the world. After all, we have Jesus. We are the light. How could we let the world have more “joy” than us? We couldn’t. We needed to suck it up and put on our smiles. We needed to quit being so high maintenance and instead become servants. We needed to deny our pain, our circumstances, our struggles, and just have more faith. Because of Jesus, we should be the happiest.
In all this oversimplification, we lost our ability to understand that life is often a matter of both/and. We will have very few uncomplicated, straightforward days, especially in the times we live in. We can’t expect to be either happy or sad...either joyful or grieving. We have to accept the reality that often, there will be a coexistence of these things.
This isn’t anything new. In Romans 12:9, Paul reminds us to “Hate evil. Cling to good.” Good and evil will coexist throughout our life. And there will be few times when everything will be all good or all evil.
As a matter of fact, as believers, we will never experience all good or all evil here on this earth. When times are good for us...the sun is shining and everything is right with the world...there are people all around us who are hurting. These people, we are commanded to care about...to weep with...to offer help to. When times are bad for us...the world is caving in on us and our hopes and dreams have been dashed to pieces...we still have hope and peace through Jesus. We are still promised that the best is yet to come and that God will redeem our pain.
From this perspective, you can see how it’s never “either/or” and always “both/and” for us, as Christians. This is why Paul gave us the instruction that we should always hate the evil and cling to the good.
This is how we have joy in the midst of a very sad world. We hate the evil and the sin and the loss and the destruction. We grieve the fact that people are still without Jesus, and we do everything in our power to let Him work through us to reach them.
But we also cling to every bit of good that He sends us along life’s way. We find joy in the sunrises and the sunsets...the unexpected gifts and encouragements...the favor and the blessing...the redemption and the fruit. We look for the good. We search it out and pursue it. We cling to it like a life raft that carries us through the floodwaters of evil.
Yes. You can be sad and still have joy. And yes. You can have joy and still be sad. As a matter of fact, this dichotomy is often a sign that you are doing the Christian life the right way.
One day, our Savior will wipe away every tear in existence. Evil will not be always. Sadness will not be always. Sin will not be always.
One day, there will be only joy for those of us that have endured to the end by hating evil and clinging to good.
Sadness is temporary.
Joy is eternal.
Joy wins. Cling to it.