What was creation like before the fall? Were there seasons of winter and loss? I wonder whether or not there will be winter in heaven? In this time of 'the already and not yet,' I am thankful that all of creation goes through these seasons.
Sometimes, it feels awkward to acknowledge our pain and loss. It seems easier to stuff it away. However, the plants and trees cannot hide. Even if we try to ignore our own pain, loss and brokenness, the earth itself reminds us that these emotions and seasons are a part of life and cannot be hidden. A tree is stripped bare every fall and waits all winter long. Empty. And yet, each spring and summer it is full and lively again.
The life and beauty of that tree is amplified because of the contrast of its loss.
Last year, I was overwhelmed by the weightiness of life and death. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy and days later my dad became suddenly and unexpectedly ill. My three week old son, and my sister and I were with my dad during his last week in intensive care. Along with my family, we stood by my dad's bedside as he died.
To be honest, this season of grieving has mainly involved putting my emotions to the side. It has been difficult to find time and space to be able to cry. This is just the life stage that my children and I are at. Often I feel weak in my heart and the responsibilities that I am carrying.
However, as I look back, I am grateful and perplexed by God's timing in the gift of joy He has given me. It seems odd and contradictory, as I still have a lot of pain and sadness and even anger in my heart from my dad dying. The brevity of life and the treasure found in simple joys has quickened me to be thankful, even though that is not the default response of my heart. This joy has roots that run deep because it was birthed in the valley of my heart, at the centre of my pain. Like a seedling that is strengthened when it starts out in the dark rather than one that is wavering from only ever growing in pure sunlight, joy is in my heart even when tears rain down. I delight in the life God has given me in a way I didn't before all of this happened. It is a true gift. Furthermore, while it is a gift, I know that it has been growing.
God has been teaching me how to cultivate a joyful heart.
Through reading 'One Thousand Gifts', I have been learning that a thankful heart gives way to joy. It has been challenging as I learn to choose to be thankful, to dig down deep and to turn my heart's focus outside of my pain and give God praise for who He is and what He has done.
My grief is not meant to be hidden or ignored. It is still vivid. But in the midst of my tears, I hear God gently urging me to give thanks in all circumstances. This discipline of turning my gaze upwards, has lifted my soul in a tangible way. As I reflect, I see how those moments of being intentional about recognizing His grace have made me stronger in my faith. Simple words of gratitude have helped me to function in the day to day rather than be overcome by the chronic ache in my heart.
I have been learning in my heart through this experience that joy is a decision.
I knew this in my head and have heard it many times before but for some reason these truths and lessons are hitting the ground now, while I walk through this valley.
Love and joy are comparable in this way. There are many times when I am not motivated by a feeling of love to care for and engage with those around me. I am tired. I am selfish. I must choose to love.
Being thankful, and therefore joyful, has been much of the same. This choice to be thankful doesn't nullify the pain, but God uses my thankfulness to shape and change my heart in the midst of the pain.
He exchanges hope for my sacrifice of praise.
So be joyful! Be thankful! I say this to you and to me. It is still a decision I need to make daily. I say this, not as a checklist or a burden or another way to measure your success at the end of the day, but as an encouragement and a prayer for you.
May you encounter joy in the midst of whatever valley or mountain peak you find yourself on. As you choose to find a way to be thankful in your heart to the unchanging Creator, the One who came to us and took our pain upon Himself, may the joy of the Lord be your strength.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Loralie has been a part of the Redemption Church family for 11 years. She shares life in a community house in East Van where she co-leads an Oikos. Hospitality, community living, and life-long learning are topics that excite her heart.