the deep sadness of life

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13

I am reminded too often of the tragedy of living in this world, often senseless, seemingly heartless tragedy of such. Except that I believe there’s a heart of love that somehow beats behind it all.

Jesus’s prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion is so deep, worth pondering, and a fitting climax to all that precedes in his “upper room discourse” to his disciples. And the part of the prayer quoted above is especially moving to me. Life is a struggle, marked at times with deep sadness. But in the midst of that, we can have our Lord’s joy, even the full measure of such within us.

Admittedly the sense of that ebbs and flows, and for me too often just seems absent. But I believe it is something that can more and more mark our lives, as we simply press on in faith, seeking to follow our Lord in everything.

In the meantime we have to face the fallout of this world, all the issues and problems. Like our Lord we can pray. In fact there’s nothing greater we can do than that. I do well oftentimes to quit doing anything to change things for better, because if that’s all I do, then whatever change for good that might happen probably has little to do with what I do, in fact at least somewhat in spite of it. But if I get out of the way and pray, maybe the Lord might help me say or do something which actually helps. But I really don’t need to do anything except pray. It is God’s work.

And throughout all of life, God is with us in Jesus. Our Lord’s full measure of joy no less being our own. In and through Jesus.

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muddling through life

muddle through

phrasal verb

If you muddle through, you manage to do something even though you do not have the proper equipment or do not really know how to do it.
We will muddle through and just play it day by day.
They may be able to muddle through the next five years like this.

I am more or less a fan of muddling through life. I’m sure this can be misunderstood, and actually is not an easy position to come to. By nature, there’s so much in life that’s trial and error. And some of us seem to be easily overcome emotionally, or whatever is the best way to describe it. So that life itself can seem overwhelming, a challenge, a heavy burden, even suffocating at times. I’ve been there, and still am there more often than I like.

It doesn’t matter how many times you go through such an experience, it’s so awful, that although you hopefully handle it much better, and guard yourself from letting things get to you, you’re going to hate it just as much, and want to be rid of it. And if you so much as catch a whiff of it, you would like to turn tail and run, have nothing to do with it. But then you’re caught up in it again.

I would like to say you can get rid of it by the right thought, prayer, or whatever. Maybe rarely that happens, but by and large it doesn’t and won’t. We do well to address the source of it, as best we can, hopefully having light from God to understand that, and then act on it. And not give up, but keep doing that.

But I’ve found, oddly enough, that the darkness and heaviness begins to dissipate, when I simply at last come to accept it. As a wise pastor from our past told us, we can’t simply snap ourselves out of fear (or a bad experience), and neither should we act on it. An important aside. But again, when I at last accept it, and determine to live with it by God’s grace, maybe something like Paul’s thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 he asked the Lord to remove three times, but the Lord didn’t, then, usually sooner than later, the heaviness and darkness will recede, and the light of the Lord’s joy and peace will again be more or less present.

I also find, frankly, that ordinarily I have the sense of muddling through life, since in my own experience, I’ve had to face quite a few times when I feel inadequate and lost in and of myself. But I find that the Lord is present, as I seek to do his will regardless.

I am not much of a fan of the idea that everything should be great, that we should be on a high on some mountaintop experience, that if we were living the normal Christian life, we would bring heaven down to earth, and others would catch it from us. Actually that might indeed end up being the case from learning to live in the valley, in the depths. Finding there, that in our weakness and lostness the Lord is present, and that we are experiencing something of his strength. That he resides with the broken and poor in spirit. And even want to help others through us. All of this 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.

out of sheer joy

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Matthew 13:44

Yes, yes, of course there’s sacrifice in living a life of following Jesus with other Jesus followers in this world. Nothing less than laying down one’s life for Jesus and the gospel and offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. But the value seen in this makes it more than worthwhile. The love one encounters is far beyond our comprehension, not to mention apprehension, that is what we can take in and experience of it. We are in the midst of change in and through Jesus, so that we can take in more and more of it, and share more and more of that love to others. And in this way of life, the grace and kingdom in King Jesus, is sheer joy.

on the eleventh day of Christmas: God’s love our joy

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

God’s love has been poured out on the world in the life of a little baby boy. The light of God’s love is thus made known, and the joy that comes with that. We who live in this love in and through Jesus, also live in God’s joy. To have that joy remain in us and be complete, we need to live in God’s love, in and through Jesus. We do so by keeping our Lord’s commands. And the command we’re to keep is to love each other, even as he loved us, laying down his life for us. Then we will live in his love and know his joy.

Almighty God,
in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

 

Advent and the lighting of the candle of joy

Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you
all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
which is a burden and reproach for you.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you;
at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Yesterday, I lit the pink (the rest are purple) Advent candle of joy. And Deb and I read together out loud this passage from Zephaniah. Father Michael in his sermon spoke on the joy which we can experience now, as well as anticipate as we both look back and look forward to the coming of the Lord– King Jesus. (The passages along with this one: Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18).

Father Michael dwelt at some length on the problem of worry/anxiety, which as much as anything else can lead to sin, and can steal our joy. One can see that in this passage in Zephaniah. It seems that God’s very presence is what is needed to quell our fears, the God who both saves and restores, and in great love and delight, rejoices over us with singing.

I for one know what it’s like to be overcome with anxiety and fear so that worry can set in. Actually I am not as plagued that way as I used to be. But necessary issues of life, and the decisions those can involve can press in on one to the point that God can seem largely out of the picture. Of course we should be praying about everything, as we’re told in Philippians 4:4-7.

An important key, I think, to being able to rejoice is to be in the presence of the God who rejoices over us. No matter what else happens, that is the case. So that we can learn to rest in God’s love, and experience the peace which transcends all understanding and guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Certainly a tall order for any day, some would say particularly today. But just as certainly, assured in the blessed assurace that is ours in God in and through King Jesus.

And so we can know something, hopefully more and more of the joy that God has over us. We can respond with joy over God, and over God’s love and delight over us. Philippians tells us again and again that we’re to rejoice in the Lord. That is an act of faith, apart from our feelings or experience. We simply do it, but we do it based on the truth, based on God himself. And the promise of the coming of the King, Jesus, who will take care of everything, even now being present with us: God-with-us, to see us through in spite of whatever else, to the very end.

Lent and the joy set before us

For the joy set before [Jesus] he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Every Sunday during Lent is to be celebrated as a mini-Easter in anticipation of Resurrection Day, Easter Sunday, when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. An important part of Lent is a looking forward to the life that comes out of death. The death of the cross in Jesus is followed by his resurrection life, shared by all the faithful, all believers beginning in this life, the culmination in the resurrection of the body and of all creation in the life to come.

So we don’t fast (if we do) or practice penitential sorrow for and confession of our sins during Lenten season only for their own good reasons. But we do so in anticipation of the joy set before us in Jesus, and we press ahead in the way of the cross so that like our Lord we can embrace and live fully in that joy to come.

Of course this process is ongoing in this life, even if punctuated with emphasis during Lenten season. It is to a major extent about joy, knowing the joy of the Lord which is our strength. As we continue to press on in this world as God’s resurrection people in Christ in the way of the cross.