Has it been five years? Five years without her laugh, her hugs, her infectiously funny, strange sense of humor? Every May. Without fail, I fall into a funk, and the grief over her loss catches me off guard. And I have to cry and write and process and remember one of the three most devastating days in my current lifetime. I remember our last conversation as clearly as if I had just hung up the phone. I remember the hospital, the soul-searing tears, the funeral, the grief that followed.
And to try to shake the sorrow, you then try to remember all the good things too—the family vacations, the funny videos with the kids, all the middle school sleepovers and camps and prank phone calls. But for me, all the good also just adds to the sad because it all stopped when she was gone.
And it always leaves me pondering the strange dichotomy of joy and grief every time.
Grief, I think, I understand better than I'd like. I've come to recognize it's not an emotion or a process, it's a thing, a noun, a substance. It has weight and mass. It can't be measured or compared, but it can be shared. Grief is the byproduct of death. Just like we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, anyone who breathes in some type of death breathes out grief, and depending on the type and quantity of what you inhaled will determine how long it takes to exhale the grief. But it must be exhaled. Grief contained is simply poison to the mind, body, and soul.
And so those who grieve, cry--A LOT. Sometimes when they least expect it because grief creeps out of the corners of life in places you didn't think to look or expect to find it.
Those who grieve become irrationally angry. We lash out in small and big ways because we have so many questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, and ultimately it never feels fair or right or just.
Those who grieve are tired--all the time. Grief is one of, if not the most, exhausting substances to exhale. It clings and wraps and sticks and stays. It hurts and aches--mind, body, and soul. It takes something powerful to shake it.
Enter Joy. Now, I'm going to struggle through this. Honestly, I'm still smack dab in the middle of processing it all myself. I might be chewing on this until Jesus comes back, but if the byproduct of death is grief, then the byproduct of life in Christ should be joy. Therein lies the predicament because a Christian, a true Christ follower, will grapple with the tension of both of these in the same space this side of heaven.
Joy and Grief will forever be dance partners in this lifetime. I'm learning that I get to decide who leads. They both need a turn because grief needs to stretch its legs. It needs to be exhaled, set free, given room to be expressed. Grief needs to be known and seen, so it needs a turn to lead the dance. After all, even Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is "a time to weep and time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." Grief is not a bad thing; it's not a sin. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of humanity.
Just like joy is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of the presence of Christ, for "in His presence is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11)" Joy must be allowed to lead the dance because joy inhales Christ for it is the very essence of His presence. When you allow yourself to experience joy, you are allowing yourself to experience Christ. And yes, joy is a choice, just like following Christ is a choice, so is choosing joy.
What is joy? How do you find joy? Sigh. I don't know. Still working on those definitions for myself. But I know that when I blasted praise and worship music in my home the other day while cleaning my house, singing to Jesus--with Jesus--at the top of my lungs, I know that I felt invigorated, full of life, unafraid, and inwardly at peace the rest of that day. Joy led the dance.
Then the next day, two songs on the radio and a text message later, I was an emotional wreck. Grief needed a turn again. And so goes the dance.
Today I'm writing, maybe I'll take a walk by the ocean, maybe I'll fill my home with worship music once more, maybe I'll take a nap in my hammock or run around in the yard with my children. Joy comes and fills and takes the lead in so many different forms. It is not a replacement for the grief, it is a needed compliment to it. Grief without joy is depression, a very lonely wallflower.
One of the best ways to experience joy is to choose to be joy for someone else. My heart is never quite so heavy when I can bring joy to someone else in my life, even in the midst of my own dance with grief. That's Jesus, friends! That's the power of Jesus. Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." I take this verse quite literally. There's healing in both shared joy and shared grief. Jesus steps into both with us. Why are we so hesitant to step into both with those around us?
I have learned that true friends are the ones who can share both grief and joy with one another. Is it awkward and uncomfortable at times? Absolutely. Are there always words to express? Nope, but just being present, making an effort of some sort, usually means the whole world. It's also a two-way street. I have to exhale my grief to a friend in order to give them the opportunity to be joy, but ultimately, my only reliable source is Jesus. Where others will fail me, He always succeeds and fulfills and shows up. Who better to understand the byproduct of death than the Man who suffered under it here on earth, only to defeat it, allowing joy to be available for everyone through His presence in us?
Ah, the dance of joy and grief. It is one I have not learned gracefully, but my Jesus is a patient teacher. If I must dance this dance for the remainder of my days, I pray He teaches me how to make it beautiful.