Pain and Joy

I sat at my friend’s dining room table looking out her giant windows into her yard. Outside my eyes met a large patch of untilled soil. Untouched by hands and rain —the dirt was fluffy and new. Later this week her children will plant corn seeds tinier than their pinky nails and watch them grow into stalks twice their size. A cornfield in the middle of the urban. Growth in the midst of decay.

My mind wandered back to when I was small and brave. My stepbrothers and I would watch the corn grow anticipating its arrival. Come late summer, we would play in the cornfield for hours running and laughing. It was too hot to cover our tender skin in the August heat. We knew that, left uncovered, our skin was no match for the giant stalks that would soon leave their marks on our arms and legs.

When bedtime came, none of us argued about who would shower first. Upon the first contact of water my arm swelled with thousands of tiny little cuts. My arms and legs were on fire with pain. And yet, tomorrow afternoon, we would go back to play in the cornfield.

 

The joy was worth the pain.

 

My mom taught me this without ever even knowing her. After I was born, she developed a heart defect that 11 months later led to her passing. In giving me life she experienced the end of her own. Through a letter to me she confidently declared that she would face death one thousand times over for my existence in this world. Yesterday, the familiar sting of Mother’s Day hit me. I started longing for something I have never had; what a strange feeling that is. Everything in me wanted to pull away and push down what I was feeling. Instead, I gently let go. I let the pain trickle down into my body. I felt it. I acknowledged it.  

I stared up at the cross in our sanctuary—the sign of death and resurrection. Jesus knew death and He understood the reality of living in the tension of both pain and joy. As my mom gave up her life for me, so did He. This kind of sacrificial love is hard to wrap my mind around. When I dwell on this truth, I experience both pain and joy.

Too often, as soon as we feel the sting of life we start numbing ourselves against it. We push the pain down and away. We convince ourselves that life is a series of mountaintops and valleys. Yet, if there is anything that growing up in the cornfields taught me it’s this: most of life is a mixture of both pain and joy. To only experience one is to live life half alive.

 

CS Lewis wrote,Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”

I am done missing out on joy and life because I am not willing to not let my heart suffer. Everyday the familiar sting of pain finds its way into my being…

 

A young child tells me she does not know what an apple is because she doesn’t have access to fresh food.

Another bombing.

More displaced people.

Shady backroom political deals.

Another man arrested for the color of his skin not the content of his character.

A family devastated by addiction.

 

In order to experience this life fully I must acknowledge the pain around me and in me. The world must leave a mark on my heart. It is only then that I can be fully alive and experience the joy Christ wants to offer. (John 10:10) If I want to experience resurrection and I cannot push aside crucifixion.

 

In acknowledging pain I start to experience the welling of joy inside me….

Teachers advocating for their students.

Justice seekers righting the wrongs of a fallen governmental system.

A pastor willing to speak on behalf of the refugees.

A spiritual mother wrapping her arms around me.

An addict admitting that they have a problem.

 

I will not shrink back from the pain of the world. I will choose life over numbing myself against it. Because, to me, bravery looks like barreling head first into this world knowing that it will leave its mark.

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