At the beginning of this year I felt a strong sense the Lord was going to give me joy. Or maybe He was going to resurrect joy in my heart, or uncover it. However you want to say it, I could hear Him speaking “joy” into my spiritual ears. I was so excited! I posted about it on social media, wrote a blog about it and pretty much sat expectantly waiting for joy to slap me in the face.
Joy left when mom died and I was so ready for its return!
Grief has been a mysterious thing. It’s come in waves and stages and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t seem to make any sense of it. Just when I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud, I am somehow sucked back in. It’s like a vacuum of pain that won’t let me go.
So you can understand why the word joy made me giddy with expectation.
Well, days passed, then months, and I lost all confidence in my “word from the Lord.” My days would start the same and end the same and all that lay in between felt the same. I despaired of ever feeling any different. I questioned the Lord on occasion about the word I thought He’d whispered, but my prayers seemed to fall flat.
So, after a while, I forgot to keep asking.
As a matter of fact, I forgot about joy all together.
Can I just stop here and shout a “praise the Lord!” We may forget, but He NEVER does.
A few weeks ago I told you I had taken a Bible study with some ladies at church. It was a study about finding meaning in life. It took me deep into my heart to places I hadn’t been in a while; maybe even places I had tried to lock up forever. Facing unfulfilled dreams is not my idea of a good time. I learned a lot about myself, I cried a lot and took a lot of soul-searching-late-afternoon walks. It was all so hard. It was at the end of this study the author recommended we read a book that had helped in her quest to find meaning.
I remember when I read the name of the book, I’d heard of it somewhere before.
I went home and shared some of what I was going through with my daughter and mentioned this book. She said, “Mom, I gave you my copy of it over a year ago. It’s in your room on your bookshelf.” In that moment, with supper simmering on the stove, and my mind in a hundred different places, the miracle of what God had already prepared for me didn’t sink in.
Since I was distracted, I didn’t immediately look for it on my bookshelf and soon forgot all about it.
It wasn’t until one glorious day sitting in white sand, watching the tide sweep seashells onto shore that I cracked open the cover of the book my daughter had given me a year earlier. As I read, the salty breeze blew the rim of my hat in and out of my face while seagulls shrieked above me. With the symphony of waves crashing into the hard sand, my vinyl chair, comfortably nestled under my colorful umbrella, became a holy place as I found my heart on page after page.
The more I read the more I was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of being understood.
Yes, it hurts to grieve; it also hurts to question the very foundation of your faith and beg the question, “Why does grief exist?” It doesn’t just hurt for a moment or even a period of time.
It hurts forever.
As I was reading, the word God had promised began to dawn on me like a slow sunrise. I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but suddenly it was clear the Lord was speaking. Between the study on meaning and my daughter’s book, He was beginning to lead me down a path.
A path to joy.
Salty tears began to slide down my sunburned cheeks.
At that realization, I laid my book down on the towel beside me and began to walk toward the ocean. I will never cease to be amazed by its liquid power. I pressed my feet deep into the hot sand, my steps measured and determined, my sights set on something deeper. The moment the water touched my hot skin, it felt cleansing and cold. I let out a small whimper of discomfort but pressed on into the clear blue.
I wasn’t turning back.
The cold waves began to crash against me, pulling me out. I was waist deep when I stopped and dug my toes into the ocean floor. I looked up into the heavens, closed my eyes and took in all of the sounds around me. And then, with great intention, I sank down into the icy water. I held my breath and allowed the current to pull me back and forth. When I emerged from the sea, I felt lighter, like I’d left a heavy burden beneath its surface. I couldn’t put my finger on it right then, but I knew something had changed.
I’d been baptized in salty water.
The joy I felt in that moment was something I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. I laughed, frolicked and played with my adult children. I felt free and fresh and incredibly thankful for the answer to a thousand desperate cries for healing.
I tried to explain this to my husband after we’d come back out of the water to rest under the sweet shade of our umbrella. But, all I could do was cry. God was answering, He had not forgotten.
I was still rejoicing in my spirit as we wiped sand from our feet and washed it out of our hair. I’m still holding onto my holy baptism even now, all these days later.
It’s not something I will ever forget.
Like scripture says, weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.* Notice it doesn’t say grief goes away and it is replaced by joy, it says joy joins the grief. Joy is mixed with sorrow, also in scripture.**
I think that’s what I am learning in all of this searching; grief is not the enemy of joy. You only recognize one because you’ve experienced the other. But, I do think there is a tipping point in the grief journey where joy begins to outshine the sorrow.
And that’s the moment you come up out of the water.