My son has been complaining of developing headaches whenever he reads or looks at something close. Since entering my 4th decade of life, I completely relate to this feeling. What used to be easy and comfortable to focus upon up close gradually has become a headache-giver. But, when we look further away, things adjust into focus and the eye strain soon dissipates. Lighting the third candle of the Advent wreath, the Joy candle, has gotten me thinking about the whole concept of joy. So often we have heard that joy and happiness are not the same. People tell us that joy is something that we can have despite our circumstances, something we can be assured of in the midst of trials and sadness. And, this is quite true. But, it does such a disservice for those in the midst of those tribulations to speak of this as if it were simple.
When a baby has died, when a teenage child has run away, when there is a terminal diagnosis or when you are overwhelmed beyond words...oh, these are real and raw and ugly. I ache with friends who are dealing with these very issues. My own trials are not as significant and yet can still threaten me to despair. Anxiety, resentment and fear can grip us in these circumstances and we may feel there is no hope.
And, yet...the pain of these up-close situations is put into a different kind of perspective as we look outward and elsewhere. Not upon self-help, not upon alcohol, not upon rejecting the Lord, but when we fix our eyes upon things above, not on the things of this earth, we will find relief, hope and, even joy.
I can't grasp how it all works--joy is not something I can honestly drum up. I can put on a fake smile and make it through a difficult circumstance, but real joy is not conjured up by my own means. It is supernatural; it is Christ's work.
Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Psalm 61: 1-4
The One whose birth we will celebrate next week, the One who is fully God and fully man, is the One who hears our prayers in these weakest of moments and who supplies us richly with every need. This is joy inexpressible.