Joy: We are reminded more than 300 times in scripture of joy and rejoicing. Notably, in Jeremiah 31:13, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Yet both joy and rejoicing may seem elusive to so many, including and even most heartbreakingly to Christians.
A fellow parishioner and dear friend of mine said that she enjoyed my writing, but wished that they were more joyful. Her comment gave me pause, yet were words deserving of contemplation. I believe I answered her — “I can only write about what I truly know and experience.” I thought, one day, one day — I will write about joy. And the Lord indeed works in mysterious ways.
Joy. As Christians, we are well versed in prayer. We pray for peace. For comfort. For mercy. For healing. For our loved ones. Even for our enemies. For our community, nation, and the world. We pray when we are in pain and suffer. Prayer is the cornerstone of our communion with the Lord. I have heard it said more than once that God answers prayer three ways: “Yes,” “no” and “not now.” Yet that assumes that prayer is petition, that we desire a very particular outcome to our request.
That is not how I pray. I pray for God’s will to be done. For His hand to move upon my life. It is not a request for a specific solution to a problem, rather a surrendering to wisdom beyond what I could possibly fathom.
But something else exists, something as profound and awesome as prayer — praise. Herein entered God’s mysterious hand on my life. I suffered a back injury almost five months ago that resulted in days upon days of pain. Some may call it chronic pain, though I try to avoid such a description as it claims pain that lives for all time and I do not claim that reality.
Certainly my injury, as many of life’s hardships, brought me into a deeper prayer life. Yet there was a dimension I was sorely missing until it came upon me in what can be described no less than an epiphany. I took my little dog to the farmers market in West Ashley and just sat with her on a chair listening to a performance of soothing folk music. During one of the songs, it dawned on me, as if a dark cloud opened in my spiritual sky and shone down upon me the most intense and blinding light: praise. Praise Him. Praise Him and be joyous.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah, say it. Sing it. My injury took me deeper into prayer, indeed, but what I realized in that moment was that it was an opportunity for me to move more deeply into praise. I have pain: Hallelujah. My life is changing: Hallelujah. I am working towards healing: Hallelujah.
Our suffering and heartbreak are doors, great and magnificent doors that beckon us to enter, for the gift lies within. The gift is so profound yet simple — intimacy with our Lord. It is a testament to our faith. It speaks to the fact that nothing can separate us from God. He is with us, in our health. He is with us in our pain. He is with us in our healing. Yet, regardless of where we are at any given moment, He is still with us. This is the understanding I gained. In the profoundest sense, it mattered how my life turned, but it could not possibly change the fact that He is still with me.
The Lord will indeed transmute our sorrow to joy, as promised in Jeremiah 31:13, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” … but we must surrender to His love and His mercy and in addition to prayer — praise. Always and foremost praise.
Jackie Morfesis has a BFA in fine arts, MA in liberal studies and teacher certification from Rutgers University. She held a Rotary Scholarship to Greece in the arts and humanities. An artist, poet and educator, she is a Greek Orthodox Christian and involved with prison ministry in the Charleston area.