A reflection on the divine tension of what 2020 has been & what we still wait for.
In December of 2019, I wrote about the Divine Tension of Christmas, that strange, divine dance between the Joy of the coming of the Christ Child and the Sorrow that can be found in waiting for the glorious return of King Jesus.
At that time, I didn’t know what lay in wait just around the corner — what 2020 would bring, what 2020 would become. I didn’t know how much I would have to let go of; how much I would have to surrender. How much we, the world over would have to let go of and surrender. I didn’t know just how much 2020 would create a wide, open stage for that continual dance between Joy and Sorrow to interplay with one another. How hard I personally would have to fight moment to moment to keep Joy on the stage of my life at all.
At the start of the year, coronavirus was a mere blip on my radar in some city in China and I’d only paid attention to it in the first place, because it was not on the other side of the world but just 1,258 miles (2,024 km) away from where my family and I currently live. It was not something to me that would alter the course of the world’s history, drastically drive high the mortality rate of the year, decimate the plans of nearly everyone in the world, or determine the fates of livelihoods—small and large in nearly every country.
Looking back at this divine dance of joy and sorrow I’ve had to engage in throughout 2020, I’ve been extraordinarily hard-pressed to heed the words I wrote in what feels like so very long ago. The irony is though, those words have become more of a living, breathing compass for me to find direction in than I ever thought I would need.
The following is my reflection on the piece I wrote back then through the lens of what 2020 has turned out to be. In this reflection, I take stock of the losses and laments and look to harvest something from them. In many ways, I’m at a loss to wrap my mind around all that has transpired so far and have found harvesting anything good is only possible through embracing this concept of Joy and Sorrow. The cataclysmic circumstances that have unfolded this year have seemed at first blush to yield nothing but lament and sorrow. Yet, even in the foreboding shadows they cast, they are by their very nature, still carving out a Joy-shaped space. That space may be currently void of Joy in perhaps your life and mine, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. There is a harvest ready to be gathered in and made of use.
A 2020 Reflection
In the unique season that is 2020, Joy has become a word that in many ways, feels not just out of place but downright irreverent. And walking in it seems perhaps, impossible. Joy in the midst of a world that if the news is anything to go by, feels like it’s on fire everywhere. A world that no longer feels robust and immortal and is proving this true tragically day in and day out. A world that is becoming increasingly more divided and antagonistic all of the time. A world that appears to recognize its need for Him less and less. A world strained and stretched thin from all of the sorrow it has had to hold.
In this reality, how can we possibly engage Joy?
How do we engage Joy in the shadow of what this year has become while looking towards the light of what will one day be but is not yet?
How do we engage Joy in the sorrow that can be present in this state of in-between? In this mortal and divine tension that for us right now, is the only reality we currently know?
How do we engage Joy in a world that is rapidly steering itself towards utter destruction? How do we engage Joy here and now when what was promised in this world was not the eradication of sorrow but the eventual overcoming of it?
Perhaps after so many months, the harnessing of Joy feels distant and out of reach. A mindset and a given staple of a life well lived that is foreign to us. And in this deep disconnect can be a lament. An all-encompassing sorrow. It is true, we cannot currently proclaim from our own lips the glorious news that a solution, a vaccine, has at long last come and life is returning to “normal” again. We cannot bask in a state of rapture as we look upon the triumphant return of King Jesus, where all sorrow, disease and death are irradiated. We are not of those yet, who have come into the fruition of all that was promised in Scripture. But we are of those, who have heard the Good News, and who in choosing Christ, have been grafted into the Family of God and who are still waiting. Those who are still watching. Looking ahead in faith, at a time in the world’s story yet to come, where we will all know and declare the Goodness of the Lord.
For we are still waiting, still watching. Looking ahead in faith at a time where we will all know and declare the Goodness of the Lord.
This is who we are. Though we forget at times to gather in the strength of this identity, we can still garner that strength from a seat of victory. Where in the midst of this all-encompassing sorrow, we celebrate the hidden victories sprinkled along the way. Perhaps for some of us it was recovering from the virus or finding His provision when all seemed to be lost or discovering something unexpectedly reassuring in unsettling times. Perhaps it was stumbling into a deeper communion with Him in the midst of isolation from others, or seeing humanity rise to the unifying call of serving one another. Whatever those victories have been in our lives, we can engage Joy and celebrate the divine invitation that waits for us in this. Where we see even microscopically, that
God’s Goodness, His faithfulness remains and remains extended to all mankind.
Close your eyes and think back to a great moment of Joy…What set that moment apart from all the others? Why was Joy the defining factor here? Something was present a moment before that created space for this Joy, created a vacancy. What was it?
When we peruse the pages of Scripture and come across moments of great Joy for the giants of the Faith, there is always something present leading up to these moments. A certain definitive context that is waiting for Joy to enter in. The common denominator that made room each time for these crystallized moments of Joy was a deep longing. This longing and the petitions from the saints that ascended to Heaven, as a result, made a vacancy. If there had been no longing, no petition, no need, then these answers from Heaven would not have held the obvious significance that they did. They would not have spoken so resoundingly of the deeper Story that was unfolding. They would not have made manifest the compassionate, listening heart of the Father so irrefutably.
Though our own longings are at times steeped in sorrow, it is in this that we discover something that the enemy would rather we didn’t see.
The presence of sorrow in our lives does not ultimately serve to keep Joy at bay but in fact, creates a Joy-shaped space in our hearts.
If we look at the sorrow of 2020 not as a context that maintains the absence of Joy but as something that in its very design makes room for Joy, then ironically, it is possible that we can find Joy in all things. Even now. If sorrow has been continually with us, then from this perspective, we discover a space is continually being made for Joy.
Though perhaps a controversial source, Kahlil Gibran wrote this on the interconnectedness of Sorrow and Joy:
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.1
If sorrow is always making room for Joy, then it stands to reason, that often we discover the power to move forward not in the moments absent of sorrow, but in the middle of it.
And as we choose to engage Joy in the midst of this year, we remind ourselves if not others, that sorrow is only a temporary place holder for something much longer lasting.
We find the strength to move forward not because we in and of ourselves are strong or because we have taken on a “better” perspective that gives us strength. We find strength in the midst of this dichotomous embracing because that is where we find Him. We find our Savior is not only “a man of sorrows”2 who understands ours, but He is also the same man “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross”3 and came out on the other side victorious. He alone is our Way forward. He was then as the long-awaited Messiah and He remains so as Emmanuel, God with us.
The work on the cross and in the grave to eradicate sorrow, disease, and death cannot be undone and as a result, Joy resolutely maintains its divine presence within all earthly sorrows.
But where does that leave us in the tension of today? In engaging the sorrow that we must walk through while simultaneously engaging the Joy that the sorrow has created a vacancy for, we fight the Good Fight from a higher plane. The thing about Joy is that it always whispers of something deeper that either has already occurred, is currently taking place, or is yet to come. It is the evidence that there is more at work than what the current state of affairs would suggest.
We know all too well what sorrows the year has wrought in our lives. We know what sorrows perpetuate themselves in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our respective countries, in the world. But have we made room in our minds and our hearts for the joys that these sorrows have made a vacancy for?
In this season of loss and uncertainty, we actively engage with the divine reality that the Messiah did in fact, come to irradiate sorrow, disease, and death while simultaneously grappling with the fact that we are still waiting, still watching for this to come to fruition. What then bridges the gap between the divine Joy of what we know in our hearts to be true and our hearts’ longing for what is yet to be?
It isn’t a what but rather a Who, and “in His presence there is fullness of Joy.”4
1 Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
2 Isaiah 53:3, ESV
3 Hebrews 12:2, NIV
4 Psalm 16:11, ESV
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.