Joy in Heartache

This week has made the whole "Joy Experiment" feel ... well ... "weird." A member of our staff is in critical condition after an emergency heart valve replacement, and is hanging on by a thread. It's hard not to feel the weight of that every moment of the day. (Her fight for her life began Monday morning.)

So as I've been planning for Christmas or playing with my kids or picking up last minute gifts, there's an underlying ache and hunger and sadness. A sadness for what my friends are going through. An ache as look at my friend and teammate unconscious, hooked to machines, fighting for her life. A hunger to see God speak into her darkness, call her name, and bring her back to us full of life and vigor. And a longing to see God's kingdom come, once and for all. For death and disease and decay to once and for all be crushed under Christ's foot like the enemies that they are.

But with all that is the thought of ... joy. What does joy mean in times of such pain and struggle? What does joy mean when you're gathered with dozens of friends praying your hearts out for the survival of a loved one? What does it mean that, even (especially) in these moments, "the joy of the Lord is our strength?"

This is certainly no time for a shiny happy, positive thinking, silver lining kind of joy. Not for me, anyway. This is time for a deep, robust, defiant kind of joy. A joy that leans hopefully (even desperately) into God; that cries out for his kingdom to come and waits patiently for it. A joy that prevails against the gates of hell themselves.

But tonight, mostly that joy is a lot like hopeful prayer.