A Surprising Secret about Joy and Sorrow

butterfly landing on a hand, surprising secret about joy and sorrow

A Surprising Secret about Joy and Sorrow

Sorrow is something we all experience at some point or another. No matter the battle, when we are in the midst of it, joy can feel elusive and complicated.

It felt like the enemy was swinging wildly. One crisis after another. My daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was a young mom, like I was when I first had cancer. I showed up at her surgeries. I prayed over her while she slept. I held her babies. 

When we finally received the news that she was okay, I took a deep breath.  

It’s going to be okay now.

Just a few weeks later I found out that I had cancer again. A different type this time. Lots of needles. Surgeries. Recovery. This too was an unexpected battle I didn’t see coming. When that passed, I took another deep breath. 

Surely things will go back to normal. 

The News We Never Expected

One night shortly after, we were sitting around the kitchen table with friends when my husband’s cell rang. He’s a counselor, so it’s not unusual to receive a call after hours. He went upstairs but as time passed he didn’t appear, so I thought he was on a crisis call. 

He was. 

When our guests left, Richard trudged downstairs. His face haggard. He sat on the couch and patted a spot close to him.

“We have to talk.”

The phone call was not from a client, but from our son. He called to share news that turned this mama’s world upside down. Our son was in a desperate place. He confessed he had been battling a secret addiction for a very long time. We climbed into our car to drive toward him and his young family. 

We were both stunned, tears running down my face. 

How was it possible that we had no idea?

A Season of Scars

My son was married to our beautiful daughter-in-law, and dad to two young children, our grand-babies. He started a business at a young age, always a dreamer. He traveled around the nation, speaking and motivating others to lead well. 

Looking back, it’s easier to see the cracks, but not at the time. 

This battle was a long, hard one. Though we thanked God often for that merciful moment when our son reached out for help. Addiction and recovery is a difficult, messy process, even as you embrace the miracles that come through it. 

I came to call that very long season “scarred.” 

One battle upon another. My heart felt scarred. My body was scarred as I battled cancer through it. There were spiritual scars as I reached for God, having no answers, taking one day (and sometimes one hour) at a time. 

Maybe you understand that feeling. 

Maybe you are there now. 

The Sorrows We Don’t Have Maps For

Sorrow is something we all experience at some point or another. It happens when an unexpected illness hits. A loss that we didn’t see coming. Even now, as we go through a pandemic, there’s loss and insecurity and uncertainty for so many. As we navigate a political season where everything feels volatile, there is sorrow we don’t quite know how to address. In a season where we are having hard conversations about important issues such as inequality and justice, there is sorrow and pain and complexity. No matter the battle, when we are in the midst of it, joy can feel elusive and complicated.

As I walked through that season called “scarred” I began to search for a deeper meaning of the word “joy” in Scripture. In John 15:11, Jesus spoke to a group of his followers who huddled in sorrow. He had recently told them he was leaving… again. They were grieving his absence even as he stood with them. They had been through so many ups and downs. When Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection, I imagine they had collectively taken a deep breath.

Everything is going to be okay now. 

Now we can go back to the way it was before. 

It’s hard when we make it through one battle only to be hit with another, right?

It’s hard to reconcile yourself to loss, only to feel something else precious slipping out of your hands. 

The News Jesus’ Followers Didn’t Expect

Jesus’ news that he was leaving shook these followers of Jesus to the core. They didn’t know what the future might hold. They faced fear and people who opposed them, and the thought of going on without Jesus at their side left them unsure.  

I love that Jesus didn’t rebuke them for their grief and sorrow, or their questions. He didn’t tell them to put on a strong front or pretend like everything was okay. Instead, he acknowledged their sorrow and then stepped into that place of grief with them, while offering a word of hope. 

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (

Jesus’ promise was not of ordinary joy or joy that stemmed from their own strength, but his joy, working in and through them. This joy was tied to a Source greater than their circumstances. This joy would follow them in the ups and downs. Later in John 16:22, Jesus told them that this joy could not be taken from them.  

In order to live a life marked by joy, this would become my promise too. 

Discovering Jesus’ Kind of Joy

In that year called scarred, there were moments I found myself face-down on the carpet, tears running into the fibers. I didn’t know how to make things better, but I did know that I couldn’t do this on my own. I continued to study biblical joy. I continued to dig deep to find out what Scripture had to say about this promise. And this is the secret I discovered, one that I want to share with you as you walk through your battle. 

Biblical joy is more than a feeling; it’s a knowing. 

What I felt was that God might be disappointed in my sadness, but what I know is God created me to feel and He’s the safest place to share those feelings. He invites us to come to him and he offers deep-into-our-spiritual-bones rest. That rest pervades our thoughts. It nestles in our hurting hearts. It syncs us in rhythm with a God who knows the next step to take, or not. 

What I felt was it was my job to fix everything, but what I know is that God is God and I am not. This understanding of God’s character allowed me to drop roles and assignments that weren’t mine, and that were heavy and burdensome, so I could step fully into what was my assignment. 

In my sorrow, I found joy because I knew where to go. I knew whose I was. I knew I could be honest with God and as I gave myself permission to feel, I was also giving myself permission to heal. 

What to Always Remember about Joy

Joy is more than a feeling; it’s a knowing. 

This led me to a deeper definition of biblical joy: Biblical joy is consciously walking into God’s love and care. 

There we are deeply rooted, grounded, and though the world around us feels chaotic and tangled, the chaos on the inside of us subsides. 

If you are in a season of sorrow, you are invited to live a life marked by joy as you consciously walk into God’s love and care. You do that as you tell God—who loves you like crazy—how you feel. You do that as you ask him to meet you in sadness and doubt. You live a life marked by joy as you hand him those assignments or roles that were never yours to carry, so you can pick up those that are. You do that as you open wide your hands and heart for the rest he so freely offers. 

As you do this, you step into what you know

That even in that hard place, joy is for you too.

Photo Credit: © Getty Image/fcscafeine

Suzanne (Suzie) Eller is a speaker and bestselling author of 11 books. Her latest is JoyKeeper: 6 Truths That Change Everything You Thought You Knew About Joy. She’s the co-host of the popular More Than Small Talk podcast with Holley Gerth and Jennifer Watson. Suzie is the founder of TogetHER Ministries. You can connect with her at tsuzanneeller.com.

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