Joy is not the absence of pain; it’s the presence of meaning and intimacy [regardless of pain or sufferings presence].
Suffering, far too many times, I think, is the result of inaction; that is, doing nothing in face of pain or unexpected hardships. It’s when we can’t find or don’t have a reason to push forward that we tend to give up and allow hardship to win.
Taking this on from a different perspective: Joy is a constant choice in which we repeatedly make, day in and day out until it becomes a natural and habituated way of life. It’s not simply a feeling; it’s the underlying foundation of our very being.
When talking about Joy and Suffering I can’t help but feel, think, or be reminded of the Red Letters, the Gospels, and the life of Christ in which his Apostles emulated. More specifically I’m reminded of two verses; one from Jesus, the other from Paul:
- In Luke 14:33, Jesus says, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
- And, in Philippians 3:14 Paul says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus wasn’t shouting condemnation from a pulpit like a militant politician, pastor or priest; Jesus was adamantly proclaiming a call for a radical and very intentional form of self-care. He was echoing the sentiments of this not being an empty emotion, but rather, a reformative life change.
He was saying that if you want to experience joy there’s going to be a cost; if you want true meaning there will be sacrifice; And with this sacrifice, suffering will ensue.
Today, I look at our culture, and, more specifically, what our Church has become within our culture: A political entity; a watered-down and far less entertaining reflection of pop culture; empty. The church offering meaning has become the exception; not the rule.
We’re addicted to this instantaneous gratification; Christianity has been conveniently repackaged into this form of a hedonistic drive-thru worship services; you come, you pay, you’re forgiven, you leave.
Christianity isn’t a week long missions trip, a Sunday morning service, or a Wednesday night small group. This is not the mission Christ intended for his followers. This is not a “model” of Church that nurtures individuals and breads love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23).
Christianity involves a group of people pressing towards the same goal, for the same reason; a goal that’s focussed on other people outside of their given bubble.
Research has shown that it’s only through a sense of connection beyond oneself (spirituality), deep secure attachments (intimacy), and a lasting outpouring into others (generativity) that we will find meaning, self-worth, and benevolence; e.g. the Fruit of the Spirit; purpose in life; etc.
Then Why Are We So Stuck?
In order for life change to happen the pain of staying where you are must exceed the cost of altering your course.
Yet, far too often, we as the Church are anesthetized into this stoic state of being that’s completely vacant of any meaning.
Meaning isn’t something you find; you forge it.
Finding joy, creating a life filled with lasting meaning, it takes work; it involves the willingness to endure expected failure, humiliation, and rejection; over, and over, and over, and over again; anything that’s worthwhile is naturally going to be a risk.
It’s this type of meaningful risk as to why I think so many of us “progressives” have decided to leave this “model” of Church and pursue the actual life of Christ.
Looking back at the aforementioned two years of suffering and hardship, as time moves forward, I’ve been able to forge meaning into my narrative. I’ve found purpose in this cross of life in which we’re all forced to carry at some point in time.
As ironically cliché as it might sound, my mission has always been Jesus; to incarnate his message; to participate in Christ’s self-giving form of love; not because I’ve chosen a pious way of life, but because it’s what I’ve found to be the best path to freedom.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.