“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” so famously begins Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. And it’s certainly true for our family right now. Preparing for the wedding of our oldest son in two weeks, with all the joy, excitement (and stress!) that that involves; and watching, praying and trying to support my brother, Phil, as he deals with advanced stage cancer.
Learning to live with joy and sorrow in the same moment feels disorientating. For some reason we have an expectation that life is more linear than that. We have good times, then we go through a bad patch, then things seem to get better again. It’s all part of the ups and downs of life, we say.
Of course, there are seasons in our lives when everything seems to be going well; and other times when it seems like nothing is! But we shouldn’t be surprised when we find ourselves laughing and crying in the same space.
I find my faith comes into play here. I’m called as a Christian to live with the big perspective. Life is a precious gift, but it is fleeting and fragile. I can experience joy while recognizing that there is still brokenness all around. And my sorrow doesn’t descend into despair because of the hope I have in Christ and his presence with me, now and forever.
That doesn’t mean I don’t fully enter into both emotional extremes. I don’t remedy my own or others’ grief with ‘cheer-me-up’ platitudes. And I don’t temper my happiness by telling myself “be careful, this won’t last, you know”. We are not to cushion ourselves from the pain or the pleasure by averaging it all out somehow – these are not simultaneous equations that require a neat solution! There is a way of being where we can accept it all, live it all, and in it all find the wonder of being truly, fully human, with all its contradictions – yet with the constant thread of God’s goodness running through it all.
For me it’s summed up in my brother’s account of receiving his diagnosis of cancer: while feeling that his world came crashing down, at the same time he became aware like never before of the closeness of God in it all, and God’s precious gift of life and family to him.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, says Jesus. Joy and sorrow can (and will) sometimes occupy the same space. And strange though it may feel, it is a profound and liberating moment when we choose to embrace both fully.