Most of the time I feel more broken than I do whole, more pain than joy. My problem isn’t with suffering, my problem is with happiness. Happiness reminds me of all that is missing, and no matter how hard I try, it always seems to be just out of reach. I’m talking about the brokenness that feels like the dark; fear, aching, hellish dark.
How does joy fit into fear, aching, hellish dark? When all you can think is, “I’m not enough for this”.
I know how to avoid joy. I’m an expert. Joy requires being known, and the last thing I want when I feel the depths of despair is to be seen, let alone known. Because to be known requires revealing. It takes admitting my deep rooted pain and no one wants to see that. What do we do with pain? We hide it, we medicate it, we attach to anything that can save us from it. I’ll never forget the days my son in the pit of his depression was threatening to kill himself. I drank myself to sleep every night for a year. The temptation is to put the makeup on, pretend it’s not there, and for the love of God don’t admit weakness. We form our gods out of our coping mechanisms.
Yet to be known means your shame and guilt come into the light so you can be healed. I find myself saying over and over: “I can’t fix my pain. I can’t put the broken pieces back together again”. Maybe that’s where joy finds us? In this very place of desperation?
Belonging, or the lack of, is our worst fear. To show up in our mess only to be rejected. Is this not the deep seated root of some of our greatest suffering?
Turns out joy is actually a person; you may know him as a baby in a manger. The same baby who showed up only to be rejected. To see “No room” written on the doorpost. To have the only place of welcome a lowly stable. Yet there he is, Immanuel – God is with us. He reaches to us in our suffering and offers up himself and says “You are welcome, in your mess, your grief, your pain – you are welcome here”.
You can pursue happiness or you can pursue joy.
The same baby in the manger grew into the one who said to a large crowd, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they are the ones who receive the Kingdom of Heaven”. The original word for “blessed” is actually “happy”, “to be envied”, “when God extends his benefits”. So those who are broken are the ones who are happy, to be envied in fact, and are the ones God has extended his benefits to”. Seriously? I fit the “broken” description but happy is far from how I feel. But maybe that is the mystery of God – to move underground, past our feelings to establish something unseen in the crevices of our soul that becomes the foundation for these God-benefits.
Happy isn’t a feeling and joy is offered to the broken. How upside down. “Our brokenness opens the door to the Father’s heart” Paul Millar. Why? Because God knows a lot about brokenness.
“This is my body broken for you”, said the Christmas baby turned man. His wounds heal our wounds. His brokenness exchanges for life. Out of his suffering comes abundance. What do you do with your brokenness?
Invite the abundance of God right into the middle of it.
“Brokenness happens in a soul so the power of God can happen in a soul. Shame is a bully, but grace is a shield. The miracle happens in the breaking.” Ann Voskamp
I have had it out with God on numerous occasions. One time when I was particularly in a dark night of the soul I cried out to God in desperation pleading, “What do I get out of all this pain?!”
He replied, “Me”.
And surprisingly, that brought to me the first deep impression of what I would describe as joy. It wasn’t a feeling, it wasn’t a decision… it was Him with me.
Immanuel. God Is With Us.