“I had been searching for joy in the relatively good times of life, now I had to find joy amidst darkness and agony.”
– Margaret Feinberg
Margaret Feinberg’s search for greater joy in the Lord took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with cancer. What she found in the end, though, was that her fearr and pain led to a capacity for even greater joy. This month she released a new book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, pointing readers to a truer understanding of joy and and where it can be found. Margaret reached out to a number of writers and bloggers and asked us to share some thoughts on joy and pain. Here is my contribution.
You know pain. In some capacity, you know it. All of us do. Some have experienced explosions in life that destroyed much of what we love. Others have experienced the slow drip of daily agony. Some have yet to experience great loss personally but have witnessed it up close in the lives of others. In each case the feelings are similar: an ache that does not leave and for which there is no remedy, a gaping hole in the chest sensitive to every breeze, noise, or look.
Sometimes we cause our own pain. We sin and face the consequences. We make a dumb decision and the blowback is intense. We hurt others through our mistakes. Many times pain just seems to happen, though. Someone betrays us. A spouse leaves us. The tests reveal cancer. A loved one dies. Our company restructures us right into unemployment. A fire or storm takes the house. That oncoming car is steered by a man in a drunken stupor.
Regardless, we feel the same. We hurt. We are empty. Often we feel ashamed because of our own fault or the state to which we have been reduced. We fear and worry. It eats us from the inside out. In all we feel as if our very soul is being jackhammered away, ripped apart, leaving nothing but a pit.
We are not wrong; our souls are being ripped apart. But not as we assume, not without hope and not without end. No, all that grinding and tearing and hammering, that gaping hole, it has a purpose.
It is a well. What is a well but a pit? Our pain is the instrument God uses to carve out a greater capacity to fill with His joy. Until it is filled it is a void, a vacancy in our spirits, but once the joy begins to trickle in we find ourselves with a greater volume for it than ever before. People who know little or no pain have puddles of joy, shallow pools easily evaporated or absorbed. Those who know the depths of pain know the depths of a real well, a cool store of joy able to refresh and nourish through any season.
This is more than a psychobabbly, feel good theory. It is a promise to every follower of Jesus. Hebrews 12:7 says “Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” From there it builds to verse eleven; “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Our pain is discipline from God—not punishment, but training—leading us to something. And it is not discipline like a coach or personal trainer yelling to keep going and reach that goal, but like a loving father seeking to make his children’s lives better and fuller for their happiness and well-being. For those who are willing to be trained, who do not rebel or quit, who withstand the pain and trust God throughout, there is a reward in the end: righteousness and peace. Righteousness reflects more of God’s holiness. And what is peace but the primary ingredient of Joy?
Unlike some pie-in-the-sky, serendipitous, false promise this is a deep realistic acknowledgment of pain and hardship in a fallen world. For that very reason it is hopeful. It deals with the real and promises the work of the Divine in the lives of those who trust. Our pain is not in vain; our emptiness is not pointless. It is the deep pit, the well, God is digging to fill up with peace and joy.
You can find out more about Margaret’s book here or by searching the hashtag #FightBackWithJoy on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.