sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

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when there is no answer or rest

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22

We are in Lent, now close to Holy Week, a time of reflection on our Lord’s sufferings, and also a time for repentance along with the acknowledgement of our mortality. It is a season during which we in a sense should embrace suffering both in rememberance of what our Lord suffered, as well as seeking in some way to participate in that suffering. And besides, we suffer ourselves because of our own sins, and because of the sins of those around us, which again reminds us of how our Lord took the brunt of our sin upon himself in the death that he died.

But what about times, as the psalmist said, quoted above, when God does not seem to be answering our prayer, and when we can find no rest? Those surely are the times to persevere in faith and not quit, even as the psalmist did not (see the entire psalm from the link above). Nor Jesus himself, hanging on that cross. We continue to pray and look to God, and carry on with our assigned tasks, even when the world seems crashing in on us. And in that process, we do find God’s answer, and at least the final rest, in and through Jesus.

living well in the well

Scientific American has another article well worth the read entitled, “Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.” If one reads the Bible, one really should have surmised the truth in that already. The psalms highlight negative emotions, Psalm 88 being perhaps the prime example.

I am a person who has been plagued much of my life with what might be called an emotional deficit. Someone who counseled me, to whom I shared that struggle called me an emotional cripple. Supposedly my emotional quotient (EQ) would be low. That simply has meant that I’ve layed low and withdrawn, not the life of the party, though strangely at times, experiencing so many low points can result in a lot of off the cuff humor.

But I’ve learned, and still am learning to accept such downtimes, sometimes seemingly overwhelming, and when I finally do I find that the negative emotions subside, and a kind of peace and joy, or sense of well being sets in. Another thing I’m learning more and more is not to allow negative emotions rule the day. We can turn them into prayer, into silent waiting on God, into reading, maybe even into sleep.

The point of the article cited above is to accept the entire gamut of human emotions and to find the good in such. Pain is not to be either medicalized or ignored, sometimes even denied, or as counselors say, suppressed. Problems will remain, and it’s not a matter of simply not worrying, but being happy. We are to present our concerns to God to avoid anxiety (Philippians 4), but they are still concerns, and for us not to be sad and and at times even angry over what goes on in the world would flat out be wrong.

We do need to bring them to Jesus, himself called  “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 52-53). He understands our experience firsthand, and is thus uniquely able to help us in our times of great need and struggle (Hebrews 2, 4).

And so we need to learn to live well in the well, the depths of despondency and despair, knowing that even there in and through Jesus there is a hope that doesn’t shun the reality of life, but in and through Jesus actually begins to transform it, as we wait for the great change to come (Revelation 21-22).

taking on the challenge

Are there times when one can’t see the light of day, and would just as soon give up? Or when there’s not much more than going through the motions, trying to keep up well what one has to do, but nothing more than that? We live in a world in which it’s easy to lose hope.

For the Christian, the follower of Christ, there is the call to lay down one’s life for Jesus and the gospel. And a key for that is prayer. We’re to pray that the message of the gospel might go forward, and we’re to show by our lives the difference that gospel makes. And be ready to answer anyone in a conversation, on our part “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4).

We have to learn that through the worst, God is able to work, in fact it is often through the bad, troubled times, that God does his work. Of course it is through our weakness that Christ’s strength is made known, or “perfect” (2 Corinthians 12).

And so that is my own determination. To walk right through the hard places in order to fulfill God’s calling for us in Christ, no matter how hard that might be. It is a challenge, to be sure. But the way in Christ is the way of suffering for his sake, and for the gospel. We carry on, because we want to see God’s good will break through in difficult circumstances, and lives impacted and turned around through the gospel.

the need for humor

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

I have heard (or, read) that Jews make the best violin players, and the best humorists. It is likely that many of them are among the best of those. It seems like the people who suffer the most, can have the most appreciation of something which not only takes such suffering seriously, but honors it, such as a good violin piece. And the gift of humor is especially important for those who can find little or no humor in life at all, or who have suffered much.

They say that laughter releases endorphins which are good for one’s physical well-being. At least there needs to be a sense that all is well, or at the very least that one does not have to be on the edge of disaster, but is somehow taken care of. Faith lends itself these gifts. When I’m beside myself over some matter or another, usually one at a time, I simply keep plugging into scripture, into the word, and sooner or later such trouble dissipates. What eventually replaces it is a sense of well being because of a faith that God will take care of it, more precisely usually a mind that is turned toward some truth about God through the gospel in scripture, and therefore a mind off the troubles.

And out of no where can come the gift of humor and laughter. As long as it’s not coarse, as in dirty, or denigrating of others, as well as not profane, then I think it’s open, and surely in some measure a gift from God. It is not something I try to force. It comes and goes. I take it that there’s a time for abject seriousness, and there’s a time for unbridled laughter. We need both. And we need a regular dose of the laughter, because the serious side is the default and place where we all live. But we can trust in the God who laughs, and know that in the end all is well in and through Jesus.

 

pain before promise

When a woman gives birth there is inevitably pain before the precious promise of the baby arrives. Regardless of how the birth is done, somewhere along the line there is signficant pain for the pregnant woman. So it is with us in Jesus. God’s promise will be fulfilled, but not without experience of significant pain on our part. Jesus used the same allusion when speaking to his disciples about his departure from them which he was about to fulfill through his death and resurrection and ascension, with the promise of what that was to bring (John 16).

And so when we’re going through the pain, we need to remember that such is often the prelude to God’s promise. And quite often the greater the pain, the greater the promise. Not that we are the source of the good that is to happen; only God is, from whom all blessings flow. But the gift somehow involves a process which changes us (cf: Genesis 32-33). The faith involved in receiving it, is a faith that comes not without struggle, a struggle that somehow not only meets us in our place of great need, but also meets the place of the world’s great need. So that in the end the blessings received are not only from God, but through, in and for God. So that the result is more than the world could imagine or achieve on its own.

So natural birth mirrors what spiritual birth is like from God. It may even seem painless at the time, but the gift brings with it inevitable suffering followed by the glory given both present and future in and through Jesus.

living in the Joy which is God

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

John 16

A friend shared something with me from C. S. Lewis’s great book, The Great Divorce, which is more than worth the effort to read slowly and thoughtfully so as to begin to grasp, as I had to yesterday:

Sarah, speaking to Frank, says:

“Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way around. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic…because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, ‘I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone, crying.’ You used your pity to blackmail them, and they gave in in the end…

Did you think joy was created to live always under threat? Always defenceless against those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will crossed? For it was really misery. I know that now. You made yourself really wretched. That you can still do. But you can no longer communicate your wretchedness. Everything becomes more and more itself….”

Later, George MacDonald, the narrator’s teacher, explains why it is right that Sarah not be pained at her husband’s choice to be self-interested, rather than accept Joy:
“See what lurks behind it…The demand of the loveless and the self imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

…Ye must distinguish. The action of pity will live fore ever, but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak the truth….–that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken. ”
[but speaking of the action of Pity}
It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light, and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured; but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on ha still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world’s garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses.”

We are also told to rejoice in the Lord always by the Apostle Paul in that great letter of rejoicing, Philippians. It is not only something we experience, but more fundamentally something we do by faith, more and more learning to rest in that joy, in the peace which God gives us in Jesus. And this joy is no less than the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). It is the joy of the Blessed Trinity, in a sense what one might aptly call the Joy who is God.

The C. S. Lewis passage read in the light of scripture is more than sufficient to prayerfully ponder, putting the rest of this post aside. But we do well not only to rethink where we live, but what it means for our lives in Jesus. There is inescapable suffering in this life, sometimes due to our own folly, oftentimes due to the sins of others, and simply part and parcel of living in a broken and incomplete world. No matter what we may be experiencing, we must choose by faith to not surrender or back down from the joy that is ours in God through Jesus. It is a joy the world cannot give or appreciate, a witness to help people find their way to God in the way which is Jesus, and the reality in which we in Jesus are learning to live.