It's one of those phrases my mother would recite to me after a difficult day and I would groan and roll my eyes. We all know it is true, that just because we are Christian doesn't mean bad things won't happen in our lives. And in those seasons of life, we are often taught to "fake it until you make it." We put on a stiff upper lip and a smile across our faces and pretend like everything is just fine. After all, when someone asks "How are you?" and your response is a litany of all in life that has gone wrong, what kind of Christian witness is that?
We hear in Philippians 2:14 "Do everything readily and cheerfully, no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! God out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society."
Or in From Proverbs 15:15 - For the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast."
Or how about I Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
If we aren't careful when we read these Scriptures, it might be assumed that anyone suffering with sadness would not be considered faithful. In fact, I have seen this go so far, as to encourage people to avoid medication for depression, because if their belief in God is strong enough, it will bring all the joy they need. I can't communicate to you enough the danger of that assumption.
Because if we look at the entirety of the Bible, we hear one life story after the other of pain and heartbreak. From the pain of separation from God in the garden of Eden, to the fear of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, to the despair of David in his guilt, to the frustration of the prophets with the state of the Israelite nation. And we haven't even mentioned the Psalms or Lamentations. That's right, a whole entire book about the laments of the people!
So what are we to do with all of this contradictory information?
I think one of the main understandings we must have is that joy is a conscious choice, not an automatic response. Joy does not mean that we are "happy" all the time and walk around with a glass half full mentality and never have a bad day. Rather, joy means that our daily approach to life is intentionally finding gratitude for God's love. There is a sense in our faith where we must actively pursue even what does not exist in plain sight. This is the hope for what we can not see, our resurrection story. As Easter people, we believe that even if the days of darkness last for a season, God is one who ultimately brings new life. So though our circumstances may not make us happy, God offers us continual joy.
Our Scripture for this week reminds us that "weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning" Psalm 30:5. This doesn't mean that after crying yourself to sleep at night, you awake to a day that won't be filled with sadness. Because we have all known days where the morning has been just as hard as the night. And yet, the symbol of the morning can reveal to us the hope of the resurrection.
This approach is less reliant on us and our human frailty and more dependent on God's divine grace.
So this week, I encourage you too look for and believe in the ways God is at work for joy in your life and the lives around you.