Recently, we heard some tragic news about another family. The kind of earth shattering news that makes you stop and look your loved ones in the eye and tell them you’re glad they’re here. And when you feel just a smidgen of their grief, your breath quickens a little and you realize the weight of their pain is mighty.
Then, in perfect contrast, we received the kind of news that causes you to celebrate with big, happy tears. This type of news makes pain and hardship seem small and makes you want to throw an impromptu party. It felt so good and yet a little wrong to feel such a big span of emotions in such a short time.
And so there we were, feeling all the feelings on an ordinary Saturday.
I’ll never know why grief and joy sit right next to each other. The way they overlap sometimes seems absurd.
When I was younger, I would sit and watch a sunset and wonder why my heart hurt a little bit. Almost like it was too beautiful. Now as an adult I recognize the bittersweet-ness of it. I think almost all joy and all pain pulls these feelings from us.
For some, we’ll experience them with deep intensity, others will feel it a little less. Either way, we can’t look at beauty without realizing there is some cost or pain associated with it.
Here’s what I mean: with each new day, we also know somewhere, someone won’t experience it because they are hurting or sick or dying. This morning someone lost a loved one. Today a woman lost her baby. Today a child grieves for their parent. Someone’s heart broke. Kids will go hungry. People can’t pay their bills. Injustice and grief and pain run rampant.
And then in the next breath we find out a miracle happened.
Or the person trapped in fear overcame their trauma. Maybe the woman who was broken is now restored. Children connect with parents. The sun comes out. Food is packed with flavor. We keep breathing.
You see where I’m going? It’s all here on this earth; all the goodness is intermixed with the pain.
But I love how the author of our stories created us to feel such complexity. We are multifaceted. And so while we may be in the trenches of hardship we may also get glimpses of the deepest joy.
I have experienced several hard seasons in my own life intermixed with the most beautiful. Nearly a decade ago I was in the midst of my seminary graduate education and about to embark on marrying an amazing man.
But as I walked through this season my parents were embattled in a bitter divorce, my family seemed to be crumbling, my dad chose to walk away from relationship with me and nearly a decade later our connection remains broken.
It would be easy to polarize this time of life and view it from only one lens—either all good or all bad. Instead I look back and I see how integrated the pain and the joy is and was.
And now as I walk through the mundane pieces of life—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, wiping tiny tears, school pickup lines, work, bills and cleaning—I find this principle is still true. The pain and the joy still sit right next to each other.
I see it when I sit with my daughter as she works through another tantrum or disappointment and when the dust settles we experience deep connection.
I see it when I make space for the pain of folks I counsel. I find joy in empowering them to own their story and re-write the narrative in a new way.
And I see it when I give my husband room to have his own emotions and experience and let go of my version of right. I've found we love each other well when we honor our individuality.
There is a special freedom born from accepting the fullness of life-- with all of it's broken pieces.
Maybe our everyday, messy life is actually stunning. Maybe today is the day we open our eyes to see it.
What would it look like for you to honor this principle in your life today?