Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ezra 3:11-13

Several weeks ago, I was having a series of dark days in a row. In a desperate moment, as I was sitting talking with my friend Lisa, I uttered the words, "I wonder if I'll ever be happy again." It was an honest enough thing to say to define how I was feeling. I continued to muse out loud that I supposed whether or not I would be happy had everything to do with how I went about defining happiness.

Wise woman/Bible scholar that she is, Lisa recommended that I attempt doing a word study. I scoffed at her idea. Yes, let me do a word study, I though. I can already tell you what I'll find out. I'm supposed to look for my joy and contentment in Christ. If I try to find it in anything else I will be disappointed. There. I'm a good Christian girl and I already know what's there to be found.

She smiled and said that it's not always about what you find. It's about what you learn in the process.

The next day, I picked up my Bible, sat down at my computer with at the ready. I thought for a second about what word to start with. Now, I don't actually know how to do an official word study, so I was just making things up as I went along. Since my initial question was regarding happiness, I started there. As I suspected, there wasn't much that was helpful to me there. I tried joy/rejoicing next. I found several interesting things. The one that most caught me was Ezra 3:11-13.

Now, other than a little here and there during high school and college, I haven't really had any interaction with Ezra. Even if I had, I probably wouldn't have responded to these verses in the same way then as I did when I read them a couple weeks ago.

To give a little context (and again, I'm no Bible scholar so forgive me if any of this is woefully inaccurate), the Israelites had been slaves in a foreign land for many years. Finally, as some of the Israelites had gotten into the good graces of the king, he allowed them to return to Israel after many years of captivity to begin to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple, both of which had been destroyed.

In these verses, the people had just laid the first stones for the new temple.

Ezra 3:11-13

They sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD saying, “For He is good, for HIs lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they raised the LORD because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.

Now, this didn't particularly have anything to do with the joy I am attempting to find in life right now, but it offered a different perspective. This thought has rolled around in my head but it is so succinctly put here that I haven't been able to keep this verse out of my head since I read it.

Grief and joy. They go together.

It is right and good that there should have been shouts of rejoicing from the people as the new foundation was built for the temple. Part of you would think that there should only be shouts of joy and that there is really no cause for the cries of sorrow that accompany it. But these men who were weeping at the former glory of the temple were the ones that saw it destroyed. They were lead away from a broken city, a ruined house of God into slavery not knowing when or if they would ever return. They remembered how things had been, and were grieved that they were not that way still.

In the midst of their weeping, shouts of joy were being raised at the same time, albeit by different voices. These were the shouts of men who knew that there would be glory again in Jerusalem - that God would live in the temple again. They were the shouts of possibility and praise for a new beginning.

The cries of sorrow for what has been lost and the shouts of joy for the new work being done were indistinguishable. The one is irrevocably linked to the other.

In every new thing that happens without Lydia here, there is potential for sorrow. It's a sorrow so deep that some days, it stops me in my tracks, wishing the earth would open up and swallow me whole. It's a sorrow that remembers the hope of what was, the joy of what has been taken away, and forces out of me a wild cry of pain for what has been lost.

But, there is in every new thing the potential for joy as well. In every new opportunity, in every new day, in every new life there is an opportunity to allow a shout of joy to rise up in me.

There isn't one without the other anymore, and that's a wonderful and terrible thing. With great sorrow comes the possibility for abounding joy. The deep, expansive places that sorrow has left empty, joy would fill and flood over and over again.

But that's a choice I have to make. I didn't ask for this pain, but I have a choice of what to do with it now that it is part of me.

I have to be the man who covered his face and wept for the temple he remembered from his youth and I have to be the man dancing in the street, proclaiming God's lovingkindness for me. Granted, it makes for one emotionally unstable looking person, but I think it's right. There is no deep sorrow unless there has been a loss of great joy. There is no great joy unless you have known deep sorrow. Angie Smith calls it, "The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy."

It doesn't entirely answer my initial question, but as always, it gives perspective. I will be happy again, but it won't be the kind of happy that I've known before. It won't be the easy, carefree, happy-go-lucky type of happiness. It's something deeper that comes from knowing how quickly we can lose the things we love the most. It isn't the kind of knowledge I'd have wished for, but I have it now and I can't give it back.

Instead, I want to learn to live my life in remembrance of these things. I know that because I have suffered, I have now an even greater capacity to be joyful and to love and to celebrate. Always, I will wish that my sweet girl was here to share these things with me and always I will be thankful that her life taught me these things. Though there is the possibility for endless emptiness in a life without her here, there is also the possibility for a life of endless fullness because she was here at all.

For my part, I would rather honor the life that God gave her by living a life of joy. I don't know exactly what that means or how I'm going to do it, but I want to try.


  1. how fitting that i should find this post today. i was just contemplating grief and joy. you continue to be in my thoughts xx

  2. Thanks for sharing what the Lord has shown you through His Word, Jen. It was very well articulated. I pray you feel the closeness of Christ as you encounter grief and joy in the days ahead. Tammy C~

  3. oh Jen, you have a gift. I cannot even express how what you said in this post resonated completely within me. I asked that exact question after my girls' deaths..."will I every be happy again?" And I learned as you are that 1) no I will never be happy like I once was, but there will be a deeper joy that comes only after such deep loss...that parallel existance of joy and sorrow and how all good things are made richer by the sadness of my loss. And 2) I learned that healing is a choice. Losing our daughters was not our choice, but what we do with it is. Chosing joy despite the pain honors them as well as gives us hope...the hope that someday we will experience the joy again because we have dared allowed ourselves to. Love comes at such a cost I know. I am still torn up two years later, my heart still so broken, yet I have experienced that deep joy you are "trying" for and I think more is to come. My life is richer now, I have grown in compassion and I see God's grace in my life more than I ever did before. It is unbelievable that I would describe my life as "richer" when my girls are not in it but that is the miracle God is capable of I guess, healing us in ways we never thought possible. Trust me, I will never stop longing for my girls, I miss them EVERY DAY, but there was a day I honestly thought I would never be happy again too...yet I can tell you honestly that I have happy times again. And you will too. I love you and pray for you always. This post really touched my heart and spoke to me profoundly. I am struggling myself with the joy and grief of my new baby's arrival. I am overflowing with joy yet I am surprised at how much it hurts. A new baby is the best thing ever, yet I, like the old men, feel the loss despite the new foundation. I ache for what was and how it will never be as it ought to be, but I also rejoice in the new hope and promise of this new baby. It sooths and stings at the same time. Keep fighting! You are loved.