Finding joy in sorrow sounds like a contradiction, and an insane one at that. How can a person possibly find anything worthwhile in the midst of pain?
That is one of the great challenges of the Christian life. When we study the Bible closely, we discover that both Jesus and Paul had mastered this secret. Is it possible for you and me to learn it too?
The single life is no piece of cake. It's laced with real emotional hardship, as you know only too well. Along the way, there's plenty of tragedy and grief as we try to find a mate, support ourselves, and battle the ever-present problem of loneliness.
The idea of finding joy in the midst of such turmoil sounds insulting. How can a single person possibly feel anything other than the emotions of the moment?
The key lies in understanding the true nature of joy. We have to distinguish it from happiness, which is a temporary thing caused by favorable circumstances. Nobody is happy all the time. Only small children think that's possible.
No, joy is a condition that endures through happy and sad times. Joy can trigger happiness, but it doesn't always. Joy is deeper. It's richer because it comes from a different place. Joy comes from the unchangeable truths of God about you.
Jesus and Paul both knew joy that lived in them no matter what. More than any other human beings, they were aware of how God felt about them.
Let's take Paul, since he was human exactly like us. From his letters, we know he got discouraged. He had low times when things didn't go the way he hoped. In that sense he was a typical single person. Yet in his darkest depths, he never doubted that God loved him and was with him.
You can get through anything if you know in your heart that God is with you.
That's one of the great sources of joy, and we can be assured that God is with us because he promises exactly that:
…God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Heb. 13:5, NIV)
Along with God's presence comes his love, his guidance, his comfort, and his protection. You can count on those things because God is the perfect Father, and a father takes care of his children.
Paul was wise enough to know that he couldn't trust his feelings, and neither can we. You may not feel "joyful," in your personal tragedy, but the truth is that you don't feel happy, which we often confuse with joy. Joy is not necessarily happiness but a sense of assurance. You may not even feel assurance of God's presence, but again, our feelings are not trustworthy indicators of what's going on. God is always with you whether you can feel it or not.
When my father died, when relationships fell apart, when I got laid off from my job, the two times I had cancer, I went through the grieving process. That's normal and healthy. You need to allow yourself to grieve, too. But deep down inside, I understood that Christ lived in me through the Holy Spirit. He wasn't going anywhere. He was giving me strength I needed to get through each crisis. There was no way I could feel happy in the midst of such pain. But I could know the joy of God's unfailing presence.
He said he will never leave you, and God never lies.
So how do you get this joy in sorrow? How can you be certain God is with you, even though you don't feel that way?
You go to God's Word, the Bible, and read his truth. You simply can't trust your feelings, but you can trust God's promises.
Here's a little homework for you. Rather than my printing the verses here, go to your Bible yourself and read them:
When you have doubts about your future: Jeremiah 29:11-13
When your heart is breaking: Psalm 147:3
When you're afraid to do something: Deuteronomy 31:8
When worry controls your life: Psalm 55:22
When you don't know what to do: Psalm 32:8
When you feel alone: John 14:16-18
Believing God, trusting him rather than your emotions is a battle you'll have to fight all your life. Satan--and there is a Satan--wants you to go with your feelings rather than the truth. He fans your doubts like an old time blacksmith used a bellows to stir up his fire.
Joy in sorrow is remembering what you already know. It's reminding yourself that heaven is your true home, not this world of grief. It's recalling what Jesus did for you on the cross.
You may not feel happy. You may not feel like dancing. But you can know joy if you live in what God has done for you already and what he's going to do for you in the future.