Sunday, July 17, 2016

No One Will Take Your Joy From You

...the blessed Words of Jesus recorded in John 16:22

"Truly, truly, I say to you, you will WEEP & LaMenT, but the world will rejoice. YOU WILL BE SORROWFUL, but your SORROW WILL TURN INTO JOY. When a woman is giving birth, she has SORROW because her hour has come. BUT when she has DELIVERED the BABY, she NO LONGER REMEMBERS the ANGUISH, for JOY that a HUMAN BEING HAS BEEN BORN into the worldSO also you HAVE SORROW NOW, but I will see you again and your hearts will REJOICE, & NO ONE will take your JOY from you."
Joy? When is the last time you felt truly joyful? Think about it. The births of our babies was supposed to be joyful. Isn't that what we all expect? But the birth of my daughter wasn't joyful. In fact, it was the worst experience of my life to date, bar none, because of all the things that went wrong and were allowed to go wrong. (Click on "My Mom With a Chronic Illness Story" to read about what happened to me that day).

Think about the Moms whose babies are stillborn: every parents' absolute worst nightmare. Think about the Moms whose babies are born far too soon and have to struggle to survive, or the mothers of the babies who are born with something wrong with them, something serious: a deformity or disease, something the doctors can't fix. Think about the mothers suffering from Postpartum Depression (PPD), the Moms who want to love their babies so badly, who feel incredibly guilty that they just can't feel that emotion, that bond...

Nature wracked by sin has stolen joy from myself and millions of suffering mothers.

Sin takes our joy from us in a myriad of ways. Satan plays games with our souls and delights in leaving us wanting more, wanting something different, he tells us that we deserve something "better" than our lot because...

"What God gave you isn't good enough,"
the serpent whispers.

When our baby is sick, really really sick, we can't think about anything else because worry and dread have filled every inch of our being. When we're missing a loved one, we find it so hard to love anyone else. When our bones and joints are aching, when our stomachs are churning, when our heads or backs are throbbing, when the chemo is in full swing... it’s difficult to concentrate on anything but our unending pain. 

  • When we can't pay our bills...
  • When our doctor says, "It's cancer..."
  • When we lose the best friend we've ever had...
  • When Mom and Dad kick us out of the family...
  • When homelessness looms just around the corner...
  • When our medical insurance is 1 payment termination...
  • When we have to decide between supper or medication...
  • When we turn on the news & hear hatred, sin, & violence...

Where is the joy?

Our bodies are killing us day by day, wasting away before our eyes, our hearts are breaking in ways we never dreamed possible, and the sin of the world is getting worse as we as a society condone it more and call it nice, good things like "rights" and "freedom" and "natural." We even imprison those who stand against it: those who dare to believe in a real God and a real heaven and a real hell and take it seriously. Maybe even you & me, maybe our children, our grandchildren. Fear, illness, and anger push joy from our hearts until we wonder when the last time we smiled (and meant it) was. 

So, we go to church like Mom taught us to do, like the good Christians we want to be, like the good Christians we want our kids to be. We know where to find strength and joy. But then the hissing starts: “Sit still,” “Stop it,” “Ssh,” “Eyes front,” “Pastor's talking,” “Stay here," "You just went potty...” and you think everyone is giving you dirty looks. That's not “joyful” or “strengthening.” That's what I would call “draining,” physically & emotionally, which is why so many of us never come back.

Church with children is hard work, 
and so is life with chronic illness,

If in the midst of such gloomy depths, we look forward to heaven, we do well. We know God’s promise to "wipe away every tear from our eyes," to invite us to a place where "pain is no more." We know that heavenly Paradise awaits us with joy never ending, with peace, rest, and health, but we ache so badly in the here and now, we scarcely can see it anymore.

Where is God now while you and I suffer? Where is He while the bank takes our houses away? While you and I fight for breath, for strength to get out of bed, try our damnedest to love our babies, stand over our husband’s or wife’s grave, the graves of our parents, our children? Where is that promise, God??

Where is that salvation now??

There is a reason why the main portion of a church is called the "Sanctuary." There, if only for a little while, you will find peace in God's WORD, SACRAMENTS, and FELLOWSHIP with His people. Even if teaching your children to sit still for an hour after working a 60hr-week, or while battling that same illness no one can cure, or while walking around with that same tortuous pain, or while trying to mask a deep, dark depression... seems so bitterly unfair, your kids need the same church you do because Satan is targeting them, too. I know. I go through the same church you do with the same rambunctious toddler and the same chronic illness and pain, and I know it's a fight. 

But it's a GOOD FIGHT: it's my BEST FIGHT,
and I refuse to let Satan win it.

When I was growing up, my church of origin had a “Cry Room” where most churches today have a “Playroom” because we didn't get taken out of church to have fun. The little babies got taken out to cry or to be nursed, of course, but we bigger kids who knew enough to sit still with our eyes on the pastor, if we got taken out of church, we got spanked. **(Please note that I am neither advocating nor opposing spanking children as an acceptable form of discipline here. I am simply telling you why no kid I grew up with ever wanted to leave in the middle of church, that's all).

In church, you, your husband or wife, and your children are all invited to join God's glorious angels and your loved ones who've gone before you in singing to and praising God with hope that does not disappoint (from Romans 5:5). And even when we cannot make it out the doors and to that building filled with bells and stained glass and organ music to worship with our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, as we would like, God still wipes away our tears with His Word as we read it on our own in our home with or family and study it together.

"For where two or three are gathered in My Name,
there am I among them."

He hears our prayers to Him, He invites us to lament and complain to Him, to demand answers from Him, to demand to be healed… But He is God and we are not and while He hears our prayers, He is not some vending machine where you can insert enough prayers and choose the answer you like the best. BUT with His everlasting promise of forgiveness for our doubt and anger, and for our continued obsession with all things worldly despite being told again and again those things don't matter, He is MERCIFUL and HIS love for you does not change (Luke 12:22-31).

So, we go to church for an hour. Maybe we manage to stay another hour for donuts, coffee, and Bible Study, but eventually we have to leave that fleeting piece of heaven on earth, close that Bible, end our prayer, walk out those church doors and face the world that hates us in these bodies we’d rather shuffle off, without even half the energy necessary to "Mom," BUT hopefully with a new view of what our days lived in the here and now mean, even the ones spent sick in bed or arguing with our kids.

We do not suffer only to learn lessons, to become more humble, or to appreciate heaven and God more. We suffer also for the sake of Christ who suffered for the sake of us. Our suffering is just small a taste of His because at the height of His suffering, His Father turned away from Him because Jesus, though sinless, became the most despised of sinners for you because...

YOU were worth it.

Your children are worth it, too, so don't seek those heavenly gifts without them just because it's easier to put them in the nursery than it is to teach them how to listen to a sermon: these gifts are FOR THEM, no matter how small, no matter if they don't "get it" yet. They will. So go together and get those gifts of temporary moments of sanctuary from the world, where death is no more, neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, where the former things pass away for a little while and take that strength with you ALL to get you by in the meantime as you endure "a little while" longer before your sorrow turns permanently to joy.

Suggested verse to repeat if the joy has gone from your heart
is from John 16:22
"Your hearts will rejoice & no one will take your joy from you."
Please click here to find a church hear you.

And please, don't leave your kids out, and
don't let your illness, pain, or any burden Satan heaps onto your shoulders keep you from God's gift of Sanctuary.
Here's "Joy" by Page CXVI