In December we celebrated the season of joy. Joy, joy, joy written on Christmas cards and banners and sung in our Christmas carols.
But we all know Christmas holidays can be difficult and lonely for many. Christmas time does not give temporary respite from hardships, loss, and pain. ‘Joy to the World’ can be plastered over cards and banners but far from our hearts.
For me, the hardship of metastatic cancer brings the meaning of joy into sharp focus. Can cancer and joy ride on the same sled together? Stranger yet, is there joy to be enjoyed within cancer treatments even though you can be left grasping for relief as side effects leave you once again feeling diminished?
The answer is: there better be!
First, being playful and joyful, looking for the delightful and comical, in myself and others, is my MO. I’m not positioning this quality as being superior to all others, I’m simply stating that I have a natural playful orientation. I’m not pollyannish. I can worry, fret, and grieve along with the best of them but joy and playfulness are my darlings! My great fear before cancer was that life would hit me with a tragedy so colossally devastating that all joy and playfulness would evaporate instantly and permanently.
Second, and this is far more important, the Scriptures teach there is joy within suffering through Christ and strength to endure suffering through Christ.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3-9
The joy of the lord is my strength.
I had an experience of joy two weeks ago. Fever, infection and need of a blood transfusion landed me in the hospital. Within a few hours I was ready to go home but I was told I needed to stay. I was not happy about being admitted and I was not happy having to share a room. Comfort and rest were foremost on my mind. A shared hospital room, with double the nurses and attendants coming in and out would not garner rest and recuperation. But soon my roommate and I became chummy and by the evening I found myself in the role of encourager and patient advocate as her pain escalated through the night. Late in the evening I found myself at the nurse’s station, asking if more could be done for my roommate’s pain. I just wanted her to be comforted. I prayed for her on my bed throughout the night or I sat on her bed rubbing her back. It was distressful and heartbreaking to a be witness to someone’s intense pain. Finally, by the late morning the next day, her pain was under control, and she was feeling much better. I was discharged at noon, feeling relieved for roommate Sue.
By the time I left the hospital I was full of joy. Why?
Donald McCullough wrote,
“Great mourners are great rejoice-ers. In opening the door to pain, they also open it to joy. Those sensitive enough to be crushed by sadness are those who also can be lifted by happiness. Mourners are blessed as they have sensitive hearts: they prove themselves to be children of God and their tears may be turned into healing action but more importantly ‘they shall be comforted by God.’”
Mother Teresa and her associates would mourn and grieve as they walked the streets of Calcutta but the atmosphere in the shelter where the sick and destitute were brought was filled with joy, smiles and laughter. I am no Mother Theresa, but I understand it. In the hospital I mourned with and comforted my roommate. If felt lifegiving and heavenly minded.
Tim Keller, pastor and Christian apologist, upon receiving a diagnosis of incurable pancreatic cancer wrote in The Atlantic.
“As God’s reality dawns more on my heart, slowly and painfully and through many tears, the simplest pleasures of this world have become sources of daily happiness. It is only as I have become, for lack of a better term, more heavenly-minded that I can see the material world for the astonishingly good divine gift that it is.
I can sincerely say, without any sentimentality or exaggeration, that I’ve never been happier in my life, that I’ve never had more days filled with comfort. But it is equally true that I’ve never had so many days of grief.”
Amen. I will always cherish the ‘joy’ of my sleepless night at the hospital.
 McCullough, D. ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.’, November 1990. Christianity Today.
 Keller, T. The Atlantic. “Growing My Faith in the Face of Death” Mach 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/tim-keller-growing-my-faith-face-death/618219/