Joy on the saddest day of the year

I don’t know about you, but June 21 is a depressing day on my calendar.  It’s the start of summer, for sure; who can’t love that?  It’s the day of longest daylight hours, which here in Alberta means the horizon almost never quite goes dark.  But here’s the sad paradox of the day – starting today, the daylight of each day is getting shorter.  Today marks the long lead-up to winter – now is that a joy killer or what?

Which brings me back to the paradox of how joy and sorrow mingle in our hearts.  To avoid joy being shallow or glib, it has to wrestle this one through.  And its very real for me because this weekend I received a heavy, bleak email from someone I love very much.  It’s an email that echoes the lament of Psalm 88, which is unlike other lament psalms.  Instead of a long lament that finally finds the room to praise God, Psalm 88 is a consistently dark meditation that ends with this line: “and darkness is my closest friend.”  The last line of this email I received was “I have lost all hope.”

How can you find joy when darkness overwhelms your living, when all hope, which is the foundation for joy, gets eclipsed?  I hardly know the depth of tragedy this person is walking through, and so I measure my words, but in the sorrow and pain I do know, I’m finding there is a paradoxical quality to joy, that joy becomes deeper, even richer, against the foil of sorrow.

I find the austere Puritans pretty good tutors on joyful living, even in the face of some dire circumstances.  There is a gutsy yieldedness to their faith, throwing themselves fully at God.  In comparison, my faith feels so conditional and fair-weather, or so backwards.  One of the Puritan prayer books that has shaped me is called The Valley of Vision.  I find reading the prayers of these long dead Christians so helpful, teaching me to see things in radically new, and biblical, ways.  This current culture malforms my faith in various ways, and so reading the heart prayers of people from a different time and culture opens me up to consider God from new vistas and learn to walk out this faith in unexpected ways.

Let me leave you with a beautifully paradoxical prayer called the “valley of vision.”  Somehow, this prayer gets it right, the odd mingling of pain and praise, joy and sorrow, without negating either one, a paradox that finds its logic only in the gospel.

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, you have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see You in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Your glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Your stars shine; let me find Your light in my darkness, Your life in my death, Your joy in my sorrow, Your grace in my sin, Your riches in my poverty, Your glory in my valley.

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