I’ve been reading Margaret Feinberg’s Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, and I find this:
“Joy flows out of unsuspecting, and often daunting, places,” she writes. “It’s illogical, irrational, downright crazypants to think that great adversity could possibly lead to a fuller life. Yet that’s what I’ve discovered over many months of being poisoned, burned, injected, sliced, and diced.”
I pay attention to what Feinberg says, because she is writing as a breast cancer patient and survivor. She has been through the “cure is worse than the disease” treatment, and she pointedly says she does not consider cancer to be a gift.
But she finds joy, sometimes in the very belly of the cancer beast. Like when she handed out red balloons to other cancer patients and their families.
Joy is a word that we Christians often associate with their faith. Both we as children sang and with our own children sing “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart / Where? / down in my heart / down in my heart.”
The fact is that joy is something that we can’t plan for. It’s something that happens as a result, often the unintended result, of something else.
Standing in silence Canterbury Cathedral in 2013 for the 3 p.m. prayer time, I was nearly overwhelmed with joy by saying the Lord’s Prayer with 27 Japanese tourists.
Sitting in a church in Erfurt, Germany, interviewing a young pastor in 2002, joy flooded me, the pastor and the video cameraman to the point of tears.
At a church service at London’s Westminster Chapel, the time of “silent prayer” was replaced by speaking individual prayers out loud at the same time, and the church felt washed by joy as the voices rose and fused upward.
Or the first time I heard my first grandchild say something that sounded remotely like “Grandpa.”
Or during a particularly dark time, receiving an unexpected note that said simply, “I’m praying for you.”
Joy comes unexpected and unplanned, often sneaking in and upending you.
I can remember years ago, sitting next to my young wife and mother of my five-month-old son while she awakened from surgery to remover a possibly cancerous thyroid. When she awoke, her first words were, “Am I OK?” And the joy I experienced telling her YES! was a wonder, for both of us.
Feinberg is right. We find joy in often daunting places. It arrives unplanned. It brings with it the ability to bear often great hardship.
It is a gift.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Fight Back with Joy. To see more posts on this chapter, “Where I Never Expected to Find Joy,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph: Westminster Chapel in London, where the spoken aloud prayers went up and the joy came down.