“Our hearts still ache, but we always have joy.” 2 Corinthians 6:10a
I have heard it said that we, as Christians, need to pay less attention to the world and as a result, we will have more joy, but I struggle with that because I don’t see it lived out in Jesus’s example. He did not hide in a temple and read the Torah all day every day, He walked in the world. He did pray and read Scripture, but He also engaged with sinners and hurting humans from all walks of life. He saw the brokenness of humans and of systems, and He was moved to compassion. He took care of physical needs and spiritual ones. Sometimes He preached and sometimes He simply touched, healed, comforted. He had deep concern for people’s physical and practical needs. He’s asked us to have those same concerns. Sometimes He even flipped tables and called people a “brood of vipers”, yikes. He did not hide and focus on cultivating joy as a goal, and I don’t think we should either. He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, second only to the command to love Him. The world may make our hearts ache, but that is not an indication that we don’t have joy.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1:24
There are so many troubles in this world, and so many troubles in our individual lives. It’s easy to understand the impulse to remove ourselves from as much of it as possible. Carrying the pain of others on top of our own pain can seem like far too much at times. Two of my kids have life-threatening/life-limiting conditions, and we have faced tremendous troubles in accepting and adjusting to those challenges. I know that I am a much better person because of what we have been though, but it has not been an easy or straight trajectory. It has been deeply painful and frightening at times, but even at the times of our deepest struggle, we had joy. Joy that comes from knowing that we do not struggle alone; that although we are sometimes given more than we can handle, God does not abandon us. This same joy has been with me as I wrestle with certain aspects of my faith. It has been hard at times and it has made me ask big questions, but God does not shy away from questions or rebuke us for asking them, even when our fellow humans might. He already knows our questions, whether we ask them or not, and in asking them He has an opportunity to help us grow, even when there are no easy answers. Struggling alongside others and having deep and sometimes difficult and imperfect conversations also gives us an opportunity to grow. Our faith is not meant to stagnate, it is meant to flourish. The struggle is part of that.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23
I don’t think the key to joy is to disengage from the world, no matter how much it may grieve us or force us to ask difficult questions. This kind of joy is not a fragile joy, it is a hearty joy produced by the Spirit and it persists even when it makes no sense for it to do so. I think the best thing we can do is to press into God, to trust that He will be with us in the struggle, and to be brave enough to follow where He leads even when it makes our hearts ache.