Thursday, June 12, 2014

Springing Into Joy--Or Not

Spring and early Summer are months filled with celebrations.  Easter arrives, followed by Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  End-of-the-school-year plays and concerts fill our weekday evenings, and graduations and weddings book our weekends.   Baby showers for the surge in babies that are born in summer and early fall complete our social calendar. 

God is good, and there is much to celebrate.  But Spring and early Summer can be like the winter holiday season and remind us of what we have lost.  If we are struggling, Easter makes us wonder where the power of the resurrection is in our life.  If like me you have come from an unhappy and dysfunctional family of origin, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be confusing and painful.  Perhaps you or the young people in your life have opted for substance abuse rather than more wholesome extracurricular pursuits.  Or perhaps you or your son/daughter/nephew/niece/grandson/granddaughter is not only not graduating Summa cum laude from an Ivy League college but is not even graduating from high school “on schedule.”  It is also possible that there is cohabitation rather than marriage or infertility rather than the birth of a special baby.  And then there are the family celebrations that are well-practiced and predictable exercises in dysfunction.

The Apostle Paul calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).   It is not always easy to rejoice with those who rejoice, to join in the celebration, when we are unable to “feel the love;” or the joy; or the blessing.  It is sometimes easier to withdraw in envy, disappointment, or bitterness.  I believe, though, that sharing the joy of others is vital for our families and communities, and especially our church family.  Doing so provides encouragement and deepens relationship.  It enables our Lord to do His work in us, among us, and through us.

So how do we “join the party” when we feel we have no reason to celebrate?  I would like to offer a few suggestions.

First, it is helpful to remember that courtesy of our sin nature, we are programmed to play the “Garden Game”—the pattern Eve initiated in the Garden of Eden by choosing independence from God over obedience to Him.  The sequel to the Garden Game, the “Compare and Compete Game,” soon follows.  As our attempts to live life and feel good about ourselves by our own efforts to be good fail, we turn to a secondary strategy and feel good at the expense of another: “At least I don’t do that!”  The problem with both games is that they separate us from God and from one another.   We find ourselves alone, and God has said that is not good.

The antidote to the Garden Game and the Compare and Compete Game is to find ourselves in Christ: Our Creator has created us in His image so that we might enjoy a genuine, intimate relationship with Him and participate in His work.  When we turned from Him to pursue independence, He died to make a restored relationship possible and to enable us to partake in who He is and participate in His work.  While it is good to celebrate achievement (which at its best honors the Creator), no performance on our part can add to who we are in Christ.  Really and truly, comparisons with others—who they are, where they go/went to school, how they make a living, what they have or don’t have—is pointless.  We are our Lord’s beloved, just as we are.

It is also helpful to remember that our trials are not unexpected.  Jesus told His disciples that they would have tribulation in the world.  There is no escaping the reality that we are sinners in a sinful world.  We will hurt and be hurt.  Those who celebrate now are not immune to job loss, betrayal by friends and family, and rebellious children.   But our God is a redeeming God.  He has promised that He will work good even in and through the most difficult times in our lives (Rom. 8:28).   Jacob’s son Joseph, whose brothers sold him as a slave, is one of countless examples that Scripture records for us to sustain and encourage us.  Consider Ruth the Moabite, the story of Esther, the man born blind whose sight was restored by Jesus, and the woman caught in adultery.   By God’s glorious goodness, we can be sure that our mourning will most certainly be turned to dancing.

What do we do if we find ourselves dealing with loss in this season of celebration?  I would exhort us to find our identity and value not in our circumstances but in our secure heritage as a beloved child of God.  We can, in faith, depend on God’s redemptive work on our behalf.  Then, we can rejoice with those who rejoice without denying or minimizing our pain and disappointment.   Joining the celebration can then be an affirmation of God’s goodness and give us an opportunity to both give and receive encouragement and to appreciate the fruit of relationship.