As she tells the story in Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, five days after her first round of chemotherapy, Margaret Feinberg kept a commitment to lead a spiritual retreat in Maine. Everything was going fine until the third day and the scheduled nine-mile hike up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.
Almost from the outset, everything began to go wrong, for Margaret and the group. Some became separated from the main group. Others began to fatigue and peeled off, returning to base. A couple got lost temporarily. Some got sunburned. Margaret herself began to lose energy, decided to hurry back, took the wrong trail (with most of the group following her) and had to climb back up to find the right trailhead.
That sounds like a metaphor. A metaphor for life. Wrong turns. Enthusiasm finding a harsh reality. Making wrong choices. Making bad choices. Physical problems. Assuming you can do more than you actually can. Disappointment.
So, she asks, where’s the joy?
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, right before I read this chapter in Feinberg’s book I listened to the sermon preached by one of our pastors Sunday. The Scripture was Psalm 102. If you haven’t read it, or aren’t familiar with it, it’s a lament. The New International Version has a brief lead-in: “A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord.”
What is the psalmist lamenting? Disappointment. Depression (or what sounds just like it). Listlessness. Purposelessness. Persecution by enemies. Feeling useless. “Withering away like grass.”
Been there. Done that.
We’ve all experienced these feelings and situations. All the neo-prosperity gospelites to the contrary, life is not a mansion, big Mercedes Benz, and a timeshare in Monaco. Life is hard. Problems happen. Loved ones get sick. You get sick. Jobs are lost. Dreams are postponed and then cancelled. People do awful things to you. You do awful things to people.
Whatever happened to “and they all lived happily ever after?”
Life is, well, hard. Bad things happen to good people, and all the time. Women and children are kidnapped by those who pride themselves on achieving new levels of vicious violence. The wicked prosper.
The psalmist has an answer, one very similar to what Feinberg discovered. As much as we rebel against the idea, the fact is that life – this life – is not all about us. This life is always about a larger story.
And the joy is in that larger story.
Led by Jason Stasyzen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Margaret Feinberg’s Fight Back with Joy. To see other posts on this week’s chapter, “The Biggest Myth About Joy,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.