Joy, oh joy.… There is so much to say about such a word. I was asked to write on this topic recently. As I keep pondering, I keep meditating on these ancient words that come out of Hebrews 12: For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus endured mockery, being spat upon, flogging, torture, shame and death because of the joy set before him. That is fascinating. Think about that for a second. He endured what no one would ever choose for the JOY set before him. He knew the joy that awaited him. He knew there was light on the other side of a dark tunnel. He knew theer was healing on the other side of suffering. He knew there was victory on the other side of loss. He knew there was a throne waiting for him on the other side of a cross. It was the joy that awaited him that gave Him the endurance He needed to get there.
Some of you are facing life stories and circumstances that are begging for endurance but you are running out of breath, out of hope and out of faith. It is the joy set before you, the joy that awaits you on the other side, that you must set your eyes upon in order to endure.
I have a friend who walked into surgery for a mastectomy recently. I imagine that and for me it’s nearly imagination, but for her it’s a reality. The very thing that has identified her as a woman will be taken away. The very breasts that were used to feed and grow her babies are being taken away. And the fear of what they might find is like a nightmare that you hope never becomes yours. But it has become hers. From the sidelines, I got to watch her face the news and be presented with so many decisions on how to deal with the cancer that has taken up residence in her body. It seems like this kind of news hits you like a ton of bricks and you can vacillate between utter denial and absolute fear. As time sinks in and the reality hits you, denial can no longer live with the cancer and you are faced with how to endure. How to endure telling your kids mom has cancer, how to endure losing your breasts, how to endure nasty chemo, how to endure the idea of not living long.
What can she do? Does she say no to treatment? Does she do all that modern medicine asks of her and also sees every naturopath, promised healer, preacher, prayer warrior, and prophet? Does she succumb to defeat? Does she live in naive optimism? Does she stay in denial? Does she let fear kill her rather than cancer?
She walks into mastectomy surgery.
I have another friend who has caught her husband in several affairs. I talked with her last week and this long road has been one of holding on and trying to do everything to make things better and praying for miracles and blaming herself for all that needs to be changed about herself. Last week was different. My conversation with her reminded me of the serenity prayer, the line that prays:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This woman has come to a place where she recognizes her need to surrender her husband to the Lord. She cannot change him. She cannot make him want her or their family. She cannot change herself more than all the efforts she has already leaned into; counseling, reading books, praying, responding with love, patience, kindness rather than anger.
What else can she do after the discovery of another woman? Does she keep controlling circumstances and moving the chess pieces so? Does she diet and try to look better than the others? Does she allow to him to get away with it in the hopes he will return? Does she cut off his man parts and tell him what a loser he is?
She surrenders him.
I watched this older woman I know. She lost her drivers license because of the strokes. She sleeps in later. She sits in a chair most of the day. Her hobbies, her freedom, her love of walking and swimming and cooking, they sit in that chair too. She is now incontinent. Her control of her bladder has lost her. Her control of much is gone. A woman who raised children, who had a career and traveled and volunteered and had friends and played with her grandchildren, now cannot walk. She has to be wheeled to the bathroom, to dinner and to her chair.
I watch her and it is agonizing. It is the way of life, moving from young to old. What can she do? Can she hop out of that wheelchair and start dancing? Can she return to the days of old when she could do what she wanted to do ? Can she change the gravity that pulls her?
She sits in her chair.
As I think about these women and what they have to endure, I keep hearing the words “for the joy set before him, he endured…”
Yes, we are called to pray. Yes we are called to fight. Yes we are called to hope for miracles. Yes we are called to believe God can rescue us from what we face. But sometimes the rescue is not where the joy set before us lies. Sometimes the great joy is on the other side of great suffering. Sometimes the great joy is on the throne after the cross, it is in the Heavenly place where there is no cancer, no strokes, no old age, and no unfaithfulness.
Jesus prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” He prayed that He would not have to face what was before Him. He asked that God would come up with another story. He begged that God would rescue this pain He was about to experience. And when He realized that God wrote the cross into the story that would ultimately promise life, hope and redemption to humanity, Jesus surrendered to the joy on the other side. His suffering became well with his soul because there was a great joy on the other side. Sometimes the great joy is found on the other side of what is now your shame and your torture. And the only way we will endure is reminding ourselves that God has joy awaiting for us on the other side.
There is an old hymn called “It is well with my soul.” I can’t tell you how many times I have sang that song with tears streaming down my eyes. It is the song we sing when we are kicking and screaming and throwing fits and then we realize those things won’t change where we find ourselves. It is the song we sing when we realize that the story that is being written is penned by One so much bigger than us, whose ways are not our ways and we give into His story. It is the song we sing with tears when surrendering is all we can control.
There is beautiful version of this song that I absolutely love. I have been singing it for these women I care about. The lyrics sing:
Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well
So let go my soul and trust in Him
Walking into a masectomy trusting in God’s handwriting upon so, surrendering your unfaithful husband to Him who is faithful, sitting in the chair you cannot step out of are all places God promises joy on the other side. Joy now, joy forever, joy with, joy without, joy in new chapters, joy in a redemption story that we hold onto in the midst of a shaming, torturous chapter. Hebrews continues to speak courage into us in the sentence that follows: Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
When there is nothing you can do to change the story. When there is little you can control. When you cannot edit or rewrite the words that play out, may you join with the ages and Jesus Himself, singing, “It is well with my soul”, holding onto the great promise that joy, real, lasting, forever, joy awaits you.