Advocating For Joy (In The Midst Of Grief)

Every morning I wake up with a lingering sadness. Every morning I wonder how many more days I’ll feel like there is a gaping hole in my chest? How many more days will tears randomly fall down my face when least expected? How many more days until I no longer feel this acute sense of loss? Someone is missing, and there is nothing in the whole wide world I can do to change that. Most people have experienced a loss in some form that was not of their choosing… a death, a divorce, a break up, a miscarriage, etc…. So many people understand the feeling I’m describing. This past week I met a man who lost his wife. That’s a totally different loss than my own and I’m sure far more painful. I would never compare my own loss to his. But I stopped and just stared into his eyes as we were talking and was stunned and taken aback by the feeling that I was looking into a mirror. I understood immediately what stage of grief he was in, because I was recently in that stage myself. His eyes spoke so much to me, and I just wanted to hug him and tell him “I know” (I didn’t, because I just met him, and he probably didn’t want some strange hysterical woman randomly hugging him).

Grief is a process. Some days are happy days full of building new memories and moving on, while other days are “sit-in-a-parking-lot-and-bawl” kind of days. But I’ve accepted that it’s ok. It’s ok to be real and feel all the feelings and continue on with life and embrace the joy as well as accept the grief, because life is not one or the other.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” -Leo Tolstoy

“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” -Jose Harris

“The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it… I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.” -Anne Lamott

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are evil.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

“Well, any love makes us vulnerable. Whatever we love will give the gift of pain somewhere along the road. But who would live sealed in spiritual cellophane just to keep from ever being hurt? There are a few people like that. I’m sorry for them. I think they are as good as dead.” -Gladys Bagg Taber

But sadness is not the story of my life (even though the past 3 years have doled out one blow after another). God has done amazing things for me, around me, and within me. So I CHOOSE joy whenever I’m able to. I know He will heal me slowly but surely and in His own time. In the meantime, there is a deep abiding joy inside me that I seek out each day. I step out of bed and accept the pain of loss… it’s real and should not be buried, ignored, or minimized. Grief needs to be given the freedom to take its course. But after I accept it and feel all the feelings, I accept that joy is also within me; and I’m going to embrace it. Can grief and joy live in the same heart? Yes. I think many people are afraid to feel joy, because they fear it will minimize or negate their grief. They fear if they allow themselves to experience joy, it might require them to let go of the person they are grieving or dishonor their memory. I don’t believe that for a minute. I have given myself the freedom to laugh and cry in the same breath (which I have literally done on many occasions).

Christmas is a difficult holiday for people who are suffering any form of grief or loss. All the cheer and holly jolly and families gathered ’round and sentimental memories can backfire on a grieving person and turn it into a deeply sad time instead of a joyous season. As Christmas approached, I could feel this happening to me. But Christmas is my favorite holiday! I count down to Christmas all year long! I wait impatiently for it! I didn’t want it to be marred by sadness. I didn’t want Christmas 2013 to be remembered as the Christmas I sat around feeling gloomy and depressed. That’s not me. I didn’t want that for myself or my family, so I set out to deliberately and purposefully find healthy joy wherever it could be found.

Why? I don’t know…. maybe because I just can’t seem to stay down for long. It’s not who I am. It’s not who God made me to be. One of my dearest friends hugged me last week and told me that I am such an advocate for joy… even when I’m sad. I thought about it for a few days and realized she is right. Maybe that’s just the way God made me. The world is full of darkness, and all I want to do is create joy and foster truth in the little patch of world around me. I refuse to lose hope. I refuse to let go of my optimistic spirit. I refuse to release my belief that God is active and always working either visibly or invisibly in each life, and one day all that has been broken or gone wrong will be undone and made right again. Christmas is a day that I celebrate God’s entrance on the scene to begin unraveling all the wrongs, and I celebrate my belief that He is who He came and said He was and will do what He says He’ll do. My hope is a “thing with feathers that perches in my soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

Because of that inextinguishable hope and concrete belief, I celebrate Christmas joyfully with angels, twinkling lights, snowmen, reindeer, elves, candy canes, carolers, Dickens villages, and gingerbread houses. I celebrate with “ribbons and tags, and packages, boxes, and bags!” I really don’t give a hoot about nitpickers who try to classify certain elements of Christmas as “pagan” and other elements as “religious.” Guess what? If my house went up in flames tomorrow, and all my “pagan” decorations burned to ash, I would walk out the door on Christmas whovillemorning and celebrate with throwing leaves in the air or singing at the top of my lungs empty-handed just like the Whos down in Whoville. Every wrong thing will be undone… every heart will be mended… everything broken and lost thing will be restored. I will celebrate that with every Christmas decoration ever made. And if I have to pause on some days to sit down and weep for my own loss, so be it. I just know someday God will undo that hurt in my life, and He will restore it… either in this life or the next… “Weeping may last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.”

My next few blog posts will chronicle the joyful Christmas our family has set out to create this year. If there is one thing I’ve learned (being the overly emotional creature that I am), it’s that feelings are powerful and can overtake you completely like a tsunami if you let them. You can be a “victim” of feelings… you can be driven by feelings… you can be “ruled” by feelings…. or you can act on truth, fight back, and your feelings will eventually follow and slowly change. We are not helpless against our feelings. They are not our masters unless we let them be. So this Christmas, my family is acting on these truths and being advocates for joy… even in the midst of our grief. We will not sit around all through the Christmas holiday clutching our broken hearts and letting our sadness overtake us. Not while hope is alive…

“Joy is the great note all through the Bible. We have the notion of joy that arises from good spirits or good health, but the miracle of the joy of God has nothing to do with a man’s life or his circumstances or the condition he is in. Jesus does not come to a man and say, ‘Cheer up’; He plants within a man the miracle of the joy of God’s own nature.” -Oswald Chambers

“We have seen men with money, who were not happy; we have seen men with honor, who were not happy; we have seen persons in power, with the command of empires, who were not happy; but we never saw, and never shall see, the individual who has Jesus with him, that is not happy.” -Charles Spurgeon

“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.” -Psalm 96:12-13

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