When I studied Theology in college, I will never forget one particular reading assignment in a class on the early Church Fathers that has left an indelible mark on my soul. During the early development of Christianity and its persecution by Rome, there is a letter to the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in which the apologist tries to respond to the Emperor’s query: “Who are these Christians that are joyful even in the face of horrible death?” In truth, I was more impressed with the question than any answer given. The observation was clear…there was something demonstrably different about Christians, they seemed to have something more, a power that enabled them to face their greatest tribulation with joy rather than fear, hatred or anger. As a woman of faith, that’s what I wanted more than anything…to be joyful in the face of any struggle thrown my way.
During this time of cultural trouble when it seems that up is down and down is up, I am again focused on being joyful amidst tribulation. Not fake joy, or just the deep desire or hope of it, and not the proclaimed kind or the kind that the church claims dominion over and is expected of all who say they believe, not the kind that exists in a bubble free from what is happening in the larger world to the least among us….I want true joy, joy that sustains and fills in the empty holes that life sometimes brings…the kind that makes me “more” than non believers. I want the kind of joy that dampens or halts any desire for retribution for injustice, and hypocrisy. I want to be joyful amidst all of the strains and struggles of modern life. I want the joy that used to propel me to dance…the kind that allowed me to see colors that many people, blocked by fears and all things opposite of love cannot see. I want the kind of joy that fills me with the power of light, so that change can happen through the visible representation that we as people of faith are more than someone without it.
I want to be the kind of woman of faith that can show to those who face depression, suicide, victimization, starvation, loneliness, judgement, the kinds of stress manifested in many forms, and all other tribulations that there is hope, a life line, a superpower that helps us all rise above any and all tribulations. I want to be more. For those who were so close to the events of Christ and the apostles in history, perhaps it was easier to become more that they were before they believed, or maybe it was the ferocity that comes when someone like the Romans try to take away what is most precious that gave them joy, because they knew so clearly that God would prevail.
I observe a church today that is more concerned about finding sanctuary within human made walls and blame upon others than standing as a beacon of hope and joy amidst some of the greatest tribulations of our time. It’s no wonder that people are falling apart in desperation all over the world. The surest way to destruction is to lose hope, forget the joy comes when we know that when God is for us, in us and around us that nothing will come between his love for us and the worst of all tribulations…even if that is death.
Think of it this way: those who fully embrace God’s love truly see things on a greater color spectrum. I have had times in my life seen colors that others don’t see. The difficult part is trying to explain a color to someone who is color blind, or can’t see it. Words are ineffective, you have to show the world by example, by expressing and wielding the love that Christ demonstrated, by having faith in the grace that was and continues to be extended by his loving sacrifice and a deep belief in all the promises that he made us. I know most Christians focus too much on the eternal life part, or getting “in the club” part…I’m talking about the transformation in each present moment. I pray every day to be the kind of person that would make people say, “I want what she has” (and not in a material sense).
Make no mistake, I am just as responsible as anyone for not exuding the joy that faith brings. I also want to be clear that joy looks different depending what path you’re on. There are people who suffer from mental illness, grief, are victims of violence and racism, etc. I tread softly here, because I don’t think true joy is a visible celebration all the time. The distinction, though, lies in filling and augmenting the broken pieces in each of us with the spiritual strength of God. Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, and that there is no distinction between loving your enemy and loving those who love you. I have to believe, that whatever the struggle, the love you share still will differentiate you from one who is just broken and hopeless. He also said that if you live in that love, His love will live in us and our joy will be complete. That is what I want to reclaim this year, and I hope my journey helps you reclaim it as well.