Chatting with my cousins at my mother’s birthday party reminded me of my childhood sojourns with my grandfather down to the general store for a little treat. Those little walks with my Papa offer the perfect backdrop for some thoughts on finding joy amid the sorrows of life.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Psalm 5:11 – NIV
As a little girl, I loved to visit my Papa and Granny. No visit was complete without a trip to Terry’s store. Just a block away, the little general store of sorts stood directly across from the cotton mill, affectionately called the “Upper Mill” by the locals.
Holding Papa’s strong hand, he and I would head down the back steps toward the little creek that skirted the edge of their backyard. Crossing the tiny wooden bridge that spanned the creek, Papa and I stepped onto the railroad tracks that led toward the mill. Perfectly safe, since the train only ran its scheduled twice daily runs, the railroad track served as a sidewalk of sorts between Papa’s house and the store.
Papa’s massive 6’4” frame easily spanned the distance between the railroad ties, while my little legs struggled to bridge that gap. I much preferred to walk the rail, imagining myself as a tightrope walker high above an admiring crowd. Placing one foot in front of the other, arms outstretched, I pranced on top of the rail until we reached the old company store.
Hand in hand, Papa and I would climb the brick steps that ushered us into one of the main meeting places of Pelzer. Papa would take me all around, introducing me as “one of the twin’s girls”. He would tousle my golden curls a bit, grinning with grandfatherly pride as he explained, “This is Anita. She’s Trish’s girl.”
Introductions and bragging complete, Papa escorted me to the candy counter to pick out a little treat. Then we would wander over to the Coca-Cola cooler where I would select the beverage of my choice, served icy cold, from a chilly glass bottle.
In those carefree days, I adored those opportunities to balance on the rails, but the balancing act of adulthood is often not so idyllic. Searching for peace and happiness, we often find trouble instead.
There we are, racing down the tracks, thinking we are full steam ahead speeding toward our destination. Suddenly, we are stopped in our tracks. A rock slide of problems lies ahead, blocking our path forward, leaving us stressed, perplexed, overwhelmed. The problems seem insurmountable. We wonder how will we get through this. There is no option but to deal with the obstacles one boulder at a time. We are overloaded and weary, wondering how our life could have changed so much. Sorrow consumes us and we wonder if this is all there is. When do we get to the good part? When do we get to finally sit back, coast for a bit and enjoy life? Once we get past the rock slide, then surely, perhaps finally, we can be happy.
In our minds, joy and sorrow cannot coexist. Until we rid ourselves of our suffering, our troubles, our sorrows, we are convinced we cannot experience joy. Joy is that elusive treasure we search for, yet somehow never seen to find.
In her Bible study titled “Choose Joy: Because Happiness Is Not Enough”, Kay Warren proposes that joy and sorrow run parallel tracks throughout our lives. This railroad analogy makes so much sense to me. Joy and sorrow must coexist in this life. They are not mutually exclusive. This life will always hold sorrow, suffering, and sickness. If we wait for such troubles to vanish in order to experience joy, then we are destined for lackluster lives.
Even in the midst of our sorrows and challenges, there is room to experience joy. We can notice the beauty of creation all around us. We can thank God for the countless blessings He bestows upon us even in the heartache of hardship. We can savor the laughter of our loved ones, smile at the giggle of an innocent child.
We can notice the good in every day, because even in the hardest of days, there are still so many good things to notice. It’s simply a matter of perspective, of choosing to embrace joy despite the difficulties of our circumstances.
That railroad track has two rails, one running with joy, the other running with sorrow. Side by side, joy and sorrow ride together as we journey through this earthly life. It is imperative that we learn to balance our position, setting one foot in front of the other, arms outstretched toward heaven, palms open to how God is working in our lives. Like the railroad ties that bind the rails together, so God binds up our broken lives, working all things together for our good. As we relinquish control and trust God with the challenges of our circumstances, we learn to experience joy despite our sorrows. As we open up space for joy in our lives, we find that we are well balanced, riding high, racing down the track toward the abundant life God desires for each of us.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 – NIV
O Lord Jesus, You knew both joy and sorrow in the days of Your earthly life. You understand the ache of our hardships, the depths of our suffering. Yet, You want us to embrace the joys You have placed in our lives. Help us to learn to experience joy, even when our circumstances weigh us down. Give us perspective to notice the good things of life even when bad things are still in view. Let us feel Your joy and find Your peace as we travel through life.
In the Joyful Name of Jesus, we pray,