Why You Must Feel Sorrow to Experience Joy

Because of Jesus, we have every reason to be known as people of deep hope and joy. But does that mean we are going to be running around singing and dancing and smiling every moment of our lives? Are you able to? Am I? Is that what it means to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice”? (Phil 4:4 esv).

I hope by now that you know I don’t think so. If we were only doing that, skipping around with glee, we would be a people whose character is an inch deep, refusing to live with honesty and integrity. Remember, hard times come, and you must be willing to be present in them and feel the sorrow they bring in order to have joy. Your capacity to feel the one affects your capacity to experience the other. The two are connected. A soul deadened to the pain of the world and to your own life is numb to the joy available to you as well. As George MacDonald wrote, “Beauty and sadness always go together.”

These days, I am experiencing joy increasingly. It sometimes feels like a fire in my chest. I have known my sorrows, just as you have. My temptation is to run from them, fearing that allowing myself to fully experience them will overwhelm me. They are a tidal wave, and I don’t know how to swim. But then the sorrow refuses to be ignored or stuffed or numbed or run from any longer. I must stop and give it space, allow the sorrow and sadness a voice. To feel it.

Here’s a secret: Our feelings have a life span. When we allow ourselves to fully feel our grief — to embrace it rather than shun it — the feeling of relief and release comes more quickly than we could imagine. The wave shrinks. We are buoyed by it. The sea calms. And we realize we did not drown. It won’t destroy us.

We were created for Eden, yet we live in the valley of the shadow of death. Of course we ache. That’s normal.

It touches all our lives: The shades of sorrow. The loneliness of loss. The emptiness and accusation of unfulfilled desires. The shame we feel when we brush up against life not going as it was meant to in the most minor of ways. The agony that overwhelms when we encounter beauty and the ache that rises in our hearts feels mocking rather than hopeful. The desperate fight to enter a new day when you do not know how you will be able to survive it, let alone live it well. The questions that taunt. The doubts that surface. The unexplained pain. The knowledge that everyone you love and everything you enjoy continues to change before your very eyes, time slipping through your fingers.

There is a sadness that tinges even the best of moments.

It is a sadness that is real and not to be ignored. It is a sadness that can point us home.

Yes, there will be sorrow in the living. But even there, we will have many choices to make: to either let our lives be defined by sorrow or to dig into joy. It is as Ann Voskamp said, “The secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”

How do we cultivate a heart of joy even amid shades of sadness? How do our hearts develop their rhythm, becoming increasingly synced with the heartbeat of heaven? By cultivating a heart that is thankful.


Taken from Defiant Joy: Taking Hold of Hope, Beauty, and Life in a Hurting World by Stasi Eldredge Copyright © 2018 by Stasi Eldredge. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

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