This sense that our lives are woven together, that there is this intricate, amazing design to them, is not just the foundation for grief. Nor is hope merely the foundation for grief. Rather, both of these things - this sense of the interwovenness of our lives and hope itself - are also the foundations for...joy.
Just as grief is so much more than mere sadness, joy is much, much more than simple happiness.
In fact, we could say about joy all of the things that we can say about grief. Joy is not just some reaction we have to our lives or what happens in them; it's not some emotional response that we have to our existence. That's happiness. Happiness is an emotion. Joy is a state of being.
It's that deep-seated sense that we have when we know our lives are woven together, that all of the pieces are somehow working together to create this beautiful tapestry in us. It's our lives, our stories, God's life, God's story, our community's life, and our community's story all coming together in the depths of our hearts. All the pieces fit. Everything works together. Not only are our lives beautiful for their weaving, but they are stronger. We sense that. And that is joy.
Which means that joy finds its base not in ecstasy, but in contentment.
It's not what we think of when we think of joy. We think of loud rejoicing, of celebration, of dancing and singing and hoopin' and hollerin'. We think of a joy that cannot help but make a spectacle of itself, that is drawn to some big show of itself. The trouble is that every time I have seen this type of joy in a fellow believer, it has been just that: a show. It's been happiness plastered on a broken face. Mere make-up. Cosmetics. Their hearts have not radiated the same joy that their voices have.
Real joy, however, where I have found it has had this quiet dignity about it. I don't say that to make it sound stuffed-shirt and full of itself. No, real joy is always full of God. But it's quiet, nonetheless. It's a simple smile, an unwavering confidence, a quiet contentment. It rejoices, yes, but not by show. Joy rejoices with every breath, celebrating the life that it has every second that it has it. Celebrating not by decoration but by devotion. You can recognize true joy because it does not demand that you look at it, but when you do, you cannot help but see.
And here's the kicker - joy, too, knows how to grieve.
It's easy to look at someone who has had some tragic event in their life, has experienced some loss, someone you knew as a person of joy, and to say that life has somehow stolen her joy. This is just not the case. Grief never diminishes joy; it only ever enhances it. Grief makes you feel more strongly the way life is woven together, which is the root of all joy in the first place, and so even in times of grief, you cannot help but feel great joy.
I think we're starting to get better at this. You can see it in the way we're having more "celebration of life" services than "funerals." We feel the way that grief has torn at our tapestry, but we still feel the connectedness of it all, and we take our grief, our mourning, and turn it into a time to do some more weaving, to celebrate all of the little threads that run throughout our lives and to add some more to it. We don't know any more whether to laugh or to cry when we remember the dead. The truth is - both. Grief demands it, and so does joy. That's what life is all about.
So this is joy. And grief. And hope. Our lives are woven together by God's incredible design, and this is the result. This is the richness we get to live. It's beautiful.