Friday morning, as we drove the long curve of the school driveway, we passed a father running on the sidewalk with his young daughter. They held hands, and her pink backpack—nearly as big as she—bounced lightly on her back. They had plenty of time before the late bell, so their running wasn’t forced.
It was joyful.
And it made me smile.
Emily, in the front seat next to me, made it better when she said, softly, “That’s Mr. G——–, Mom—who is now cancer free!”
Tears almost came then. Em and I had prayed several times for this family. In the late fall, requests for prayer were updated almost weekly: his treatments were difficult; his children were shell-shocked; his prognosis wasn’t good. Then there was a period of silence, and I, at least, assumed the worst.
Two hours after I dropped the kids off at school, the image of the father and daughter running together was still hovering in my mind—a spot of bright pink joy.
But underneath it was something else, something less joyful. And I couldn’t figure out what that was, until I heard an interview with Kay Warren on the radio about her book, Choose Joy, released last year. She described our present lives as train tracks of sorrow and joy. Here on earth we travel both—like a railroad car, a wheel on each track. Even in great sorrows, there are flickers of joy and good, but the opposite is also true: even in times of peace and joy, there is sorrow (in some part of our lives and certainly in the world at large).
Then I understood what was haunting my joy.
It was the knowledge that sorrow still exists and can strike at any moment—has already struck so, so many.
“Man is born to trouble,” said Eliphaz to Job, “as surely as the sparks fly upward.” There’ s much that Eliphaz says that is not necessarily correct, but this statement—it’s true!
But we still feel joy when we see/hear things like I did that morning. All moments and stories of restoration bring joy—because when we see them, we hope that maybe, someday, things will be good and right forever. We hope that these snapshot moments of joy will somehow become eternal.
We long for a day when our longing is completely fulfilled.
This is such a strange idea. It’s a mystery, really. We long for what we have never known. In all of human history, there has never been a time of complete, worldwide peace. There has never been a marriage or a family without some kind of dysfunction. Jesus said, “The poor and vulnerable people are always with you”—and it’s true: we still have them. Injustice and abuse: they’ve always been around, along with fatigue, depression, tragedy…
So why do we have a longing for what we have never, ever seen anyone experience? Why do we have a longing that we know will not be fulfilled?
This kind of deferred/unfulfilled longing can make a person sick (Proverbs 13:12).
Who did this to us?
God steps up and says that He did. He put an eternity-sized hole in our hearts that can only be fulfilled with Himself (Eccl. 3:11, Amplified version), and He watches us stuff it with things that simply cannot fill it.
This would be cruel, except that God has made a way to fill this hole.
Christ! He is called “the Hope of Glory!” (Colossians 1:27) the HOPE that all will be glorified, that one day suffering will be NO MORE!
Kay Warren reminded her listeners that if they look down parallel train tracks, they join together in the distance.
Sorrow will be swallowed up in joy.
I don’t have that reality or even that perspective yet, but Christ continually renews my hope that it WILL BE. He has promised that my longing for a never-ending good that I can see and touch WILL be fulfilled.
And in the parallel-track meantime, He opens my eyes to the joy He provides every day, even in the midst of sorrow.
In Isaiah 49, God tells the Israelites that One Day, their longing will be fulfilled. “Then you will know that I am the Lord,” He tells them—because THAT is the answer.
And then He gives them a promise to carry them to the final answer:
“Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” (emphasis mine)
*I mentioned Kay Warren in this post. A day after I listened to her interview—and wrote the rough draft of this post—her 27-year-old son died. I cannot imagine her pain. Please be praying for hope and joy in the midst of her family’s incredible sorrow in losing their son.
*Following is a C.S. Lewis quote that I’ve been thinking of as I’ve written this.
From “The Weight of Glory” Chapter 1, Paragraph 1:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.