The Dance Between Pain and Joy in this Life
Today, I found out a wonderful couple my husband and I are friends with are adopting a sixteen-year-old girl who has been in and out of foster homes. My friend sent me a picture of her and her foster-to-adopt daughter with the biggest smiles on their faces, and I thought my heart might explode with exceeding joy.
And then a few hours later, I found out a couple I love and adore has been going through a deeply tumultuous time in their marriage and is headed for a divorce.
How can it be? How can in one day, one week, or one season, we experience a happiness that feels like a taste of heaven yet feel the next moment like we are plummeting to the ground in grief with the reality of the world’s brokenness?
What should we feel more? Happiness that we see God working or searing pain because this world is clearly not what it’s supposed to be? This joy and pain, coming and going, are seemingly at odds but often inextricably linked. After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal”.
Through the treasure of Scripture, we find that our Savior knew this “deal” of conflicting but often joined emotions all too well. Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” but he was a man who Luke 10:21 describes “rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit.”The Greek definition of “rejoiced” in this verse includes a literal translation of “jump for joy.” Our Jesus felt the depth of sorrow and grief but possibly jumped for joy on another occasion!
Neither the pain nor the happiness is more significant than the other. The pain reminds us of the fall, the brokenness of this world and its people, but it also draws us into the God who weeps with us (John 11:35) and promises that one day, through Him, the pain and suffering will be finished (Revelation 21:4). Equally purposeful, our joy points to the Giver of all gifts (James 1:17) and is so delightfully enjoyable that it can often only be described as “inexpressible and glorious” (1 Peter 1:8).
Pain and joy. They often dance together; they sometimes fight against one another; occasionally, one seems absent and the other charging through, but both draw us near to the One who experienced it all. And this dance between grief and joy culminated on the Cross.
It was for the grief over our sin and the brokenness in our relationship with Him that kept Jesus Christ on that road to be crucified. It was because His eyes were set on the “joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2)—the salvation of mankind and the restoration of our relationship with Him—that kept Him on that cross.
In the same way, we can thank God for the joy and the pain in our own lives; they both ground us. The pain, reminding us of the brokenness of this world, encourages us to look ahead to the completed “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) we will experience in the presence of God one day. Through Christ, we have the promise that pain will lead to joy. The joy and the pain. The pain and the joy. Both draw us closer to our Savior.