Today's lectionary reading carries on from yesterday. It is from John 16:20-23....
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.Along with clarity in the midst of confusion, Jesus promises us joy in the midst of pain. Jesus tells his disciples and us that their experience will be like that of a woman giving birth to a baby. The pain of the birthing process is tremendous, but when a beautiful healthy baby boy or girl is born, the pain of the mother quickly gives way to joy. Yes, there still may be painful days ahead as the mother recuperates from giving birth, but that pain will be bearable because of the joy of holding that newborn baby. So it is with us: Jesus promises us joy in the midst of pain.
Jesus knew his disciples were about to undergo the tremendous pain of grief due to his death on the cross. However, he also knew that this pain would give way to joy at his resurrection. Jesus promises that no one will be able to take away our joy.
Now this does not mean that life for the Christian is easy. Life was not easy for the disciples, even after Jesus' resurrection. They experienced much persecution and suffering, but they also experienced joy in the midst of trouble.
We must distinguish joy from happiness. Happiness shows up generally where you would expect: when you get a promotion and pay-raise at work, when you get married to the love of your life, when a child is born or when a child grows up and begins to accomplish good things in life. However, joy can be present even in the midst of pain: when we go through job loss, or divorce, the loss of a loved one, or the pain of watching our children go down paths we know will be hurtful to them. In spite of these things, we can still have joy because joy is a gift of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Joy is not dependent upon our circumstances.
I have a friend named Tim Hansel. In the early 1970s my father helped Tim to launch a Christian version of Outward Bound, a wilderness learning program for young people called Summit Expedition. Also in the early 70s, Tim had a serious fall while climbing and lived in chronic pain for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, I have seldom known anyone more joyful.
In his book, You Gotta Keep Dancin', Tim wrote:
I have a plaque, sent to me during the most difficult period of my entire life, that says the following:
I have everything under control!
It was sent by a friend who knew that I needed that reminder. Ironically, the glass got broken during shipping. I have never replaced the glass because, to me, the message is even stronger behind shattered glass. We can know a joy that transcends circumstances and is of a substance and faith that is beyond situations.Jesus promises us joy even in the midst of pain.