When life as you know it shatters, it can be hard to imagine there will ever again be joy when it’s hard.
“Let me not die while I am still alive,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote after her husband died suddenly, leaving her a widow with two young children.
Because living is not just getting out of bed every morning. It’s possible to show up for life — maybe even look like we’re okay — but to be absolutely numb to feeling.
It’s possible to run the errands, put dinner on the table, read to the kids, sit through the meeting and be 10,000 miles away, desperately trying to manage the hollow pain carried through the day.
The question isn’t whether we’ll survive seasons of suffering. I was pretty sure I could keep managing with at least some shell of myself. The question I wanted to know was – would I ever see joy again?
Would I ever have breezy days of fun with my kids or would my days always have that overhanging shadow of missing and brooding? Would there be times that afterward left me sighing with blissful fullness or would I just wear a smile that covered over brokenness?
Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
June 29: “Feeling very alone. How can we ever fill such a gaping hole?…I don’t think my heart can ever love that deep, that securely, that innocently again…”
June 30: “Will I always evaluate everything pre-June 17 and post-June 17?…For me, I will remember the dream I lived before June 17 and the life I lived after. Help me Lord to create a good, rich, fun, joyful, stable post June-17 life.”
July 1: “How long will it hurt Lord? I tell people with my mouth that You will restore our joy and I believe it in my heart and yet it hurts so much…How will this turn out for good? Raw, raw pain and sadness for a dream life and dream future that is no more.”
How long, Lord? I opened to the next Psalm in my reading, Psalm 126.
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion,
We were like men who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us
and we are filled with joy.
Psalm 126 became my prayer. I memorized it, I prayed it, I claimed it for my family and I wrote our name and the date next to it in my Bible.
I so wanted to know our home would be filled with laughter and joy again. I could see it was promised, but I wanted to be looking back, saying “the LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.”
That day happened to be Rachel’s 18th birthday and she wanted to really celebrate such a milestone birthday. But we were only two weeks out from Dan’s death and as much as I wanted to celebrate Rachel, I could not pull together a party.
I needed to know we’d have joy again. Rachel wanted to celebrate her birthday. God was already meeting both of us.
Rachel had put out a quick Facebook invite to friends to meet for ballroom dancing and to wear pink. That evening, we piled into the car, all of Rachel’s brothers decked out in pink polos and button downs. Matt and Annalise were thrilled to get to go and stay up late.
When we got there, I could see Rachel’s friends who had come, all wearing pink for her. One had made a cake frosted in bright pink; another had made pink Krispy treats. Another friend handed her pink roses and another a bouquet of pink balloons.
As I watched these friends chatting and dancing that evening, my boys dancing with their sisters and all of them gathering to sing happy birthday, I realized . . . I was smiling. Not a surface smile but deep smiling. On the very day I had prayed for joy and asked how long it would take, God was already putting pieces into place to bring joy.
And when Rachel got in the car late that night, squeezed between her flowers and balloons, she gave one of those happy sighs of a full heart and said it had been one of her best birthdays ever.
Right in the midst of pain, He had brought a pocket of joy. I thought I would have to get all the way through the pain to see joy again. But, it’s not one or the other; it’s both. God gives pockets of joy right in the midst of suffering.
That joy is part of our hope this side of heaven. It’s what helps us know the painful days won’t always feel like this. We can say right in the midst of the hard, “The LORD has done great things for us.”