If you look close, you can often catch joy and sadness walking hand in hand.
I did anyway while on a ten-day mission trip in Guatemala. At a school in Xela, our team played crazy games like Zombie Tag, where the kids laughed and ran and mumbled, “Must eat brain, must eat brain.” In chapel services those same kids sang, “Sin has lost it’s power, Death has lost its sting, From the grave You’ve risen VICTORIOUSLY” at the tops of their lungs. Zombies, even pretend ones, singing about the ultimate anti-zombie, Jesus, was beautiful and hilarious. The kids listening with rapt attention when we told our stories about how God loved all of us was pure joy.
This was mingled with the sadness of watching street boys, ages nine or ten working, shining shoes on the square, or the little Mayan girls carrying their heavy burdens on their heads to work instead of to school. Or the blind man begging, or the two gringas wobbling down the street drunk at about 4 in the afternoon. Deep. Sadness. I wanted so to be able to tell them too of the love of God for them.
I noticed something else about joy and sadness (I have seen this before but always forget). Wealth and joy were not always hand in hand, nor were sadness and poverty. There they were together, wealth and poverty, sadness and joy arm-wrestling. The wealthy do not have a market on joy nor the poor on sadness.
Hurt, pain, worry cut across all lines, as does laughter and song.
I remembered then that our problems and our hopes are deeper than dollars can dig. Maybe that is why God does not simply throw money at us when we ask for help.
The poet and prophet Isaiah told his people in a time of deep poverty and sadness that God would one day “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
As Ben Harper sings, God wants to use our two hands locked together, along with joy and sadness, to work this miraculous exchange of beauty for ashes for all of us.
Eugene C. Scott is most moved by being with people and seeing God in them. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.