“How can you sing joyful songs during this difficult time?” our relatives asked. It was the night before my brother’s funeral, and we were singing his favorite worship songs. My brother David had tragically and unexpectedly died a few days before. He was just eighteen years old when he drowned in the Danube River. Our family and the entire community were in shock. But there was a glimmer of hope in all of this. David was a believer in Jesus, and we knew that one day we would see him again.
Comforting anyone who’s lost a loved one is difficult, but the challenge is particularly hard for those who work with children whose parents have died. In such situations, one might think that it’s best to help children forget the trauma they’ve endured. But therapists have discovered that the opposite is actually true—remembrance helps children cope with their loss. Remembering all the good memories they shared with their parents helps them see their past with joy and their future with hope.
The children in my church love to sing action songs. With joy and enthusiasm, they act out the lyrics. Seeing their exuberant childlike faith, I’m challenged to believe that because Jesus is with me, I can rejoice in the trials and pains of life.
Driving home one evening, I noticed I was low on fuel. Icy rain began striking the windshield, and I groaned at the thought of getting out of my warm car to fill up the gas tank on such a miserable night. But I reluctantly pulled into the next gas station I came to—and promptly did a double take! Through the pouring rain, I saw a woman dancing in the gas station. I sat for a moment and stared in wonder. Why would anyone dance with such joyful abandon on an awful night like this? A rather sad, cold, and lonely moment was instantly transformed by a woman who refused to be defined by her circumstances.
On a trip to England, Horatio G. Spafford’s four daughters lost their lives when their ship was struck by another vessel, leaving their mother as one of the few survivors. As Spafford later sailed to meet his wife, he penned the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” More than a century later, worship leader Darlene Zschech wrote “Shout to the Lord” during a family crisis. In moments of deep pain, both Spafford and Zschech drew strength from the joy of knowing God was present and for them.
One of my favorite moments of the year is on Christmas Eve when, at the conclusion of our church’s candlelight service, we erupt with the powerful song “Joy to the World.” Because our church practices Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) as a season of preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we wait to unleash this song until that holy moment—then our voices raise the rafters. The song is the perfect conclusion to Advent, since joy is at the heart of everything Jesus does for us.
Amanda Varty was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lay confined to a bed in a darkened room for nine years. Usually too weak to go to church, one Sunday she felt compelled to ask her husband to take her to a service. As Amanda worshiped God, she felt strengthened in her body, but weakness returned when she went home.
I’ll never forget what one of my older friends said when her son died unexpectedly: “Heaven seems nearer.” Although she was a widow who had endured hardship and pain, she lived her life with verve and joy. In her sadness over losing her son, she sought God’s perspective and, in doing so, felt the distance lessen between God’s kingdom on earth and His kingdom in heaven.
In what’s considered one of the greatest Christian classics, Mere Christianity, British novelist, poet, academic, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote: “There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him (Jesus), it must follow that you are trying to obey Him.”
When John Lasseter of Pixar Studios was asked about the limitations of working with animation, he said, “The more organic something is . . . the harder it is to recreate with a computer.” In contrast, a review of some organic photography gushed, “One canvas in magenta red has curling squares of what looks like skin or material; another has furry brown hairs sprouting on green and orange stripes; and on a third, lip-like shapes float on a gray-white background.” The reviewer was describing photos of tree bark.
When a family in our church lost their home to a fire, fellow church members sprang into action with clothes, shelter and gift cards. Then they helped with the painful process of sifting through the ruins to salvage valuables and memories. Our church put into practice what the apostle Paul instructed: “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
I love how joy can bubble up, unbidden. It can surprise me when I walk next to a gurgling brook or when I catch a glimpse of the faces of family and friends. Even when I fret about the friend whose feelings I’ve hurt, I can seek God’s help and peace as I release to Him my anxiety and receive the gift of His joy.
After the cross finished its cruel work, Jesus’ bewildered friends laid His ravaged body in a cold tomb. Night fell, and an eerie silence descended. Jesus’ followers huddled in grief and confusion. What do you do when your entire world crumbles with violent implosion? What’s left when everything you thought you knew, everything you’d hoped in, lies smoldering in ashes? What do you do when God has died?
“How can they observe the season of Lent and then miss out on the feasting afterwards?” a friend asked, mulling over the seemingly lost practice of celebrating the season of Easter—the fifty days following Resurrection Sunday. Christians who follow a more liturgical tradition dedicate the forty days before Easter as a season of prayer and fasting (while celebrating the resurrection each Sunday), but they sometimes neglect to embrace the discipline of celebration during the Easter season. Fasting without the subsequent feasting loses the experience of joy that God longs for His people to know and embrace.