This week was a pretty good week--much to give thanks for! I celebrated my birthday, and it is a fairly innocuous number that can just be celebrated rather than bemoaned! And I was able to celebrate it with my family, who was delighted to join with me for an extravaganza of books, tea, and great food. It was also a good week with friends and reach-outs from people near and far. Some of them said the most touching things, that it brought tears to my eyes. We all want to be loved and valued, and it is indeed a special week when people say things that help one to believe and accept that this is true. I am so very grateful!
It was also a week in which I was very focused on fixing quite a few things. Inspired by a sense of injustice on behalf of others, I hope these efforts were not in vain and can be used to bring about positive help and change.
And, this week gave the whole world reminders that we're not done yet with this pandemic thing. Or this violence thing. Or with fear, unrest, illness.
I've been hoping for awhile that this summer will be a righting of sorts, a restoration and time of reprieve and peace in light of what we have suffered. I've had this passage from Joel 2:25-27 in my head for awhile:
I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army that I sent against you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Kind of a strange passage with the locust imagery, but such an apt stand-in for the devastation from certain life events. When a swarm destroys everything in its path, how is restoration possible? And yet this passage speaks of so much hope, a beautiful impossibility to go quickly from a ravaged nothing to eating in plenty. And to top it off, fellowship with God, who is to be in our midst. And a promise to not be put to shame again.
I pray this over my family, I pray this over your family. How much we yearn and long for complete restoration! And yet the reprieves seem all too brief. I've written before that before our cancer journey, I was asking for one good year, because it's not like things were easy before all this. Then I dropped the request to two good days in a row. Then I realized that this is not the prayer to be having at all, except that I am hoping for above promise in Joel to be fulfilled.
But in the midst of illnesses, and school shootings, and scary headlines that probably won't harm us, and hidden dangers that probably will, it's difficult to rest easy. I need to remind myself of what I've been studying--that what the Bible and Biblical scholars tells us about suffering needs to apply to the totality of our lives. When we fail to do this application, we end up perpetually surprised that things are just plain hard. That even in the midst of happiness and gratitude, there's just a not rightness to how things go down.
I'm still reading my lament books, and picked up a new book as part of the birthday extravaganza! Paul David Tripp's Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense. The first section, vetted during birthday at Half-Price books, showed that the book will past muster based on the author's theological bona fides and personal experience of suffering. Check and check.
In the meantime, I wanted to take a breather from the book quotes and dive into other scriptural passages that swirl around in my mind from time to time. Kristen Wetherell (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/endurance-suffering/) ties many of them together in this article on endurance in suffering. Special call-out to the book of James for never disappointing on extremely practical guidelines for Christian living. I love James' plain dealing right off the bat in Chapter 1 (vv 2-8):
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Consider it pure joy. The Greek word used here is chairo, meaning rejoicing and be glad. But what does that mean or look like in this context?? I love Abarim Publication's online Biblical Greek Dictionary section on this:
Everybody is familiar with the verbs to rejoice and be glad, but it's wildly unclear what real-world act, activity or deed is described by it. When we use the verbs "to hammer" or "to walk" we know precisely what activity is described, but when we seek engage in the act of rejoicing, we have no real idea what to actually do. Or in the words of Calvin: We can't even tell what muscle to flex. It's probably why half the world is on crack and no party is complete without sedation and violent stimulants.
Ha! Yes! I know a little something about the complexity of emotions that seem straightforward but really aren't. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation on grief, and was diving into my patient's descriptions of anger and sadness, a member of my dissertation committee said to me, "If you simply call anger negative and happiness positive and don't go into more nuance and complexity than that, I won't pass you." Fair warning, and she was right to be that insistent. I ended up publishing on the complexity of anger when it comes to particularly traumatic types of grief. So, I've focused more on complex negative emotions in my research, but the above dictionary goes into great detail on the historic and linguistic complexity of chairo, showing that joy also is a complex emotion. There's a lot to unpack on their site (feel free to have at it: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/ch/ch-a-i-r-om.html), but one of my take-aways is that the origins of this word have to do with a social joy.
In verb form, it means to rejoice together. In noun form, it doesn't refer to private elation or internal feelings, but "social felicity." Basically, a sense of connectedness with others and a type of unity in our unique ways of being. It's connected to gratitude, a response emanating from someone who received attention or positive affirmations from someone else.
It's what I felt this week! I was troubled by terrible events--and they were very terrible. Children died. I grieve for Uvalde, Texas. Closer to home, people I know and love got sick. I'm worried about various things that are totally legit worries. What can I do? What can I control? I didn't do it perfectly at all, and I need the Lord's wisdom on what fronts to take on, but I did let my dismay over the negative things drive positive activity. This is where negative emotions are good--they drive us to do something, to change a circumstance where people are being harmed and are suffering.
It's just hard to go into action mode and feel really peaceful and elated simultaneously. Two opposing emotions at the same time just can't happen. But, if I'm understanding the explanation of chairo, the fact that I didn't feel a high elation this week is beside the point (I'd kinda like it, though. Would definitely like some warm fuzzies this year, because it feels like things have been numbed for quite some time). But even if that elation doesn't come, I think I did experience what James is talking about. Not due to anything I did, but what I received.
In God's mercy, He prompted many people to reach out in love to me and say such very kind things. Things that I desperately want to be true about myself and if even an iota of it is true, I am so very joyful! Connecting in person and digitally with people I know and love was such a beautiful gift. And all of this in the midst of the trials--and in case we're tempted to narrow what these trials mean, James doesn't let us. The NIV says "many trials" the NRSV says "trials of any kind." So, pretty broad. In the midst of trials, we can count the whole thing as joy. Pure joy. Joy that is connected to love and gratitude and God and other people. Joy in the God from Whom all blessings flow.
And so, while the trials and the difficulties and the pandemic and the violence all keeps going, so do the blessings and the healings and the rightings of wrongs and the inter-connectedness among people and the turning of hearts toward God. Changed lives, turning toward the light. Dear Jesus, please more of the latter and less of the former.
Everything in life is one's appraisal and attitude. James is a good psychologist here. Whatever is happening, our task is to count or appraise it as pure joy. Not delusionally so. Not in denial with an avoidant-type imitation of happiness--as I've been writing about for months. But to consider it joy, as if accounting for it in the black of a ledger book or a beautiful page in a journal.
I'm spurred onto action in a number of areas because things need fixing, but my appraisal as I write this at the end of the week is, there was so much good. It's an important appraisal--to acknowledge the lament as well as the good, and then be spurred on to action. More on this soon...in the wake of Uvalde.