Living Joy in the Face of Suffering

signs spelling joy

So (Mary Magdalene and the other Mary) left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8

I am writing this on Easter Monday. We are now on the “joyous” side of Lent/Easter 2020 as we celebrate the life-changing Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection. We proclaim this event offers all who believe it life forever in God’s community of love.

Yet, as I listen to news reports and read the reflections of persons who are trying to make sense of what is happening to us, I recognize that we are still very much in the pain of this time in all its manifestations—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

So, what are we supposed to do with the joyous response of the women at the empty tomb or the Easter joy we usually trumpet in a “normal” Easter season? Is there a place for a “full-throated” response of joy amidst all the suffering of COVID-19?

Yes, there is! There is joy not only for us individually, but joy to be shared in our churches, neighborhoods and communities. We will see joy not only in the numerous good deeds happening around us, but also as a way forward out of our own fear and uncertainty.

In April 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

The result was The Book of Joy in which the two men, collaborating with journalist Doug Abrams, showed that living joyously is a way of life even in times of great suffering. Especially for us who are followers of Jesus, it shows a way for us to live Easter joy in this painful time.

In a chapter entitled “Our Greatest Joy,” Bishop Tutu begins “I mean simply to say our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others…We are wired to be caring for the other and to be generous to one another.” Then a little while later, he notes what could describe our current condition, “Unfortunately, in our world we tend to be blind to our connection until times of great disaster.”

For us as Christians, we affirm our connection as a part of the church, the community of God’s people. So, Tutu says, “This God is community, fellowship. Being created by God, we are created to flourish. We flourish in community.”

Abrams comments about what the two men have been saying about joy and suffering: “What does our happiness have to do with addressing the suffering of the world? In short, the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others.”

So Abrams concludes, “The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, as the Archbishop (Tutu) poetically phrased it, ‘to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.’ As we will see, joy is in fact quite contagious. As is love, compassion, and generosity.”

Let’s face it: in this time of COVID-19, we are showing our caring and compassion for others by just staying home. Yet we grasp for ways to be more actively connected to others and show our compassion for them.

So, this perspective on joy shows us a way forward for us who long for ways to live Easter joy.

Some examples:

  • If you have been connecting with friends and acquaintances to see how they’re doing, reach out to a new person this week.
  • Take a moment to write a “thank you” note to medical persons who are caring for COVID-19 patients and send it to their attention at a local hospital.
  • If you sent $10 to an organization or group helping in the fight against coronavirus last week, send another $10 this week, perhaps to another group.
  • When you go out, wear your mask proudly (you’re saving lives)—and tuck a spare one, if you have one, in your pocket for someone who may need it.
  • Get a copy of the Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama and explore more deeply how you can live joyfully even in a time of suffering.

Prayer:

Risen Lord Jesus, Turn our pain and suffering toward joy. Help us to see the ways we are connected to each other and created to be caring and generous to each other right in the midst of the lives we are now living. Amen.

Keith Hammer

Keith Hammer

Retired ELCA Pastor

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jim Grunow

    Thanks, Keith, for your devotional today. I had not remembered that meeting of two of the most significant leaders of our time much less their The Book of Joy. I have put it on my “to order” list. Also appreciated the specific suggestions for actions at the end. Good words today.

  2. Connie Seymour

    I must admit that today I was feeling a letdown after arriving at Easter. I was so looking forward to the service and yesterday it started, “now what”? Your devotion and prayer was just what I needed today. Thank you!

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