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The Combined Taste of Joy and Sorrow

Originally published Monday, 01 August 2016.

There’s a sweet children’s story titled, Because of Winn Dixie. The main character, Opal, has a friendship with the town librarian, Miss Franny. Miss Franny told Opal the story of her great grandfather who fought in the Civil War and returned home to find that everyone in his family had died while he was away in battle. After all the sorrow, he desired something sweet and made candies called Littmus Lozenges into which he poured all his sadness. Miss Franny gave one to Opal to try.

I ate my Littmus Lozenge slow. It tasted good. It tasted like root beer and strawberry and something else I didn't have a name for, something that made me feel kind of sad.

..."There's a secret ingredient in there," Miss Franny said.

"I know it," I told her. "I can taste it. What is it?"

"Sorrow," Miss Franny said. (p.113 and 114).

The Combined Taste of Joy and Sorrow

For believers, the combined taste of joy and sorrow is a familiar one. It’s the taste we live with every day in this fallen world. Even on days where we experience deep joy, there’s always the accompanying flavor of sorrow. And then on those days where we experience profound sorrow, there’s always joy right there in the midst of it.

This taste has nothing to do with candy. Our sorrow comes from an awareness that things are not what they should be. There’s sorrow over the fallenness of this world, it’s depth and breadth. There’s sorrow because we know how things began and what happened to bring us to this place of brokenness. There’s sorrow over how the curse of sin affects the world around us and that of our own hearts. There’s sorrow over how the fall comes to bear in our individual life through conflict, illness, heartache, and loss. There’s sorrow over injustice, tragedy, abuse, and death.

But then there is also joy. Joy because we are in Christ. Joy because we know God and are known by him. Joy because we know that God rules and reigns, no matter what is happening around us. Joy because we know that he is always with us and will never forsake us. Joy because God hears us and is our refuge in our sorrow. Joy because we know that this world is not all there is and that eternity awaits us. And joy because we have the very presence of God living within us.

Gospel Joy

In my book, I talk about how joy is always with us and how it is intertwined with other emotions, particularly sorrow. 

“Even when life is at its hardest, gospel joy is still there. It is always present, like an anchor in the storms of life. It’s what trickles through the cracks of our messy and sin-stained lives. Like a river’s current, it carries us through the challenges and pains of life in this fallen world. This is why fellow believers in Christ whom we know are going through a serious trial in their lives can still express their joy in the Lord. Even though their world is crumbling, even though they might be facing excruciating physical pains, they can still sing a song of praise because they have gospel joy co-mingling with their sorrow and grief. They can sing because Christ has set them free from all captivity, including captivity to their emotions. They aren’t held hostage by their emotions so that even through tears, they can sing of God’s amazing grace.

This gospel joy is why the hymn writer, Horatio Spafford could pen the song ‘It is Well With My Soul’ after losing four of his daughters at sea:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet,
though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Though sorrows, fears, and pains remain in this life and though they will revisit us throughout the course of our lives, we have the constant undercurrent of joy always there with us.” (A Heart Set Free, p.139-140).

As I’ve gotten older, my taste buds have changed. Things I didn’t care to eat when I was younger, I now enjoy. Also as I’ve gotten older, the combined taste of joy and sorrow is more profound. It’s an everyday taste, one that has become part of me. Perhaps this taste has grown with more life experience or the loss of naiveté or a greater and greater awareness of just how fallen the world is. Perhaps it is all of it combined. But each day I have reason both to lament and to hope in Christ.

Our Savior summed it up best, “In this world you will have sorrow, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” As believers, we face the reality that sorrow is real and that we are to expect it in this world. But at the same time, we have hope. Christ has conquered sin and death. We are redeemed. And he is present with us until the end. He is our joy in the midst of all the sorrows and heartaches of life. 

Do you know the combined taste of joy and sorrow?