I read something by Henri Nouwen not long ago that really resonated with me. It certainly is not the first time that has happened...I love Henri's writing. And, as is also quite often the case, I read it at a time when I needed some perspective on events that were unfolding around me. Here is what Henri wrote:
Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy."Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth."
How very true. I cannot tell you how often I have reflected on a sorrowful situation only to discover that joy had also been present all along. How does the saying go? Our vision is always 20/20 in the rearview? It certainly is.
Still, I had to pause and think about the rest of this sentence and the assertion that sorrow is hidden in joy. I tried to apply this thought to remembering the birth of my children. Where might sorrow have been hidden in such joyful moments of my life? As you might imagine, it didn't take long to figure out. With the birth of my firstborn daughter nearly ten years ago came the sorrow of my Mom's ongoing battle with cancer. With the birth of my son four years ago came the sorrow that my Mom would not meet him this side of heaven and be here to watch him grow up. With the birth of my youngest daughter last year came the sorrow that my dear sister had lost a baby several months earlier and was grieving not being able to bear children of her own.
It is quite true. Joy and sorrow are never separated.
This week I appeared before the Board of Ordained Ministry for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, seeking their approval for licensing as a local pastor. This milestone gave me ample opportunity to reflect on my spiritual journey, my movements from grace to grace and and the joys and sorrows along the way, that ultimately led me to such a moment.
It was six years ago this week that I served God and the people of Spring of Life UMC for the first time as a part-time worship music leader. Had you told me then that I would leave my career in financial services in order to attend seminary full-time and pursue ordination, I would not have believed you.
It was eight years ago this week that my Mom died from ovarian cancer. Had you told me then that I would be conducting my first patient visits as a hospice chaplain on the very anniversary of her death, I would not have believed you.
In my reflection I found my understanding of what Nouwen meant when he wrote that joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth. It has been said that sometimes the way to God is not up but down. The deep sorrow I felt over my Mom's cancer and death took me into the darkest places of my heart. Yet, it was in that place, the very end of myself, that God sowed seeds for a new life and spiritual growth. Without that time of sorrow, I doubt very seriously I would be on the journey I am on today. And so, I have learned from my spiritual journey that God's grace is found in every moment of joy and sorrow we experience in our lives. I've also learned that I must positively respond to God's grace in these moments so that I might grow spiritually.
So, I invite you to reflect on your own spiritual journey. Looking in the rearview, how have you seen joy and sorrow as spiritual parents to help you in your growth? How have your joys and sorrows helped mold you and shape you into the person you are today? How can you positively respond to God's grace in your present joys and sorrows so that you grow and become more fully the person God created you to be?