Rejoice - Always?
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“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”
Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!"
Right. How do you rejoice during crisis or disaster? It doesn't sound ethical or proper to rejoice during tribulations, especially after the loss of a loved one. Rejoice? I can’t imagine it.
Solomon said, "For the happy heart, life is a continual feast" (Proverbs 15:15, NLT).
Okay, I can see how a happy heart would see a joyful feast, when there is a reason to be happy, but the above mentioned circumstances seem a far cry from any happy feelings.
In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr said this: “An often quoted aphorism: “‘Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.’ Contemplation and silence nip the ego and its negatives in the bud by teaching you how to watch and guard your very thoughts and feelings—but from a place of love and not judgment.”
All right. Guide your thoughts, actions, and habits. That’s still a far cry from rejoicing while you or someone you love is suffering. It still seems heartless and cruel.
And so, I thought until something else occurred to me. Habakkuk and St. Paul aren't suggesting we rejoice in the circumstances. No one in their right mind would rejoice over suffering ― at least not anyone with any feelings.
However, we can rejoice that God is with us, always. I know that mentally, but how do I feel it and know it, in my heart, when faced with suffering? I once had a dream….
I knelt in church, praying, asking for strength to cope with numerous crisis. A light poured from the center of the altar, illuminating the center of the church. The light beckoned for me to enter, but I hesitated. Stepping into the light meant leaving everything behind: family, home, work, hobbies, everything I loved and cherished. God was asking me to choose Him before all else. Did I have enough faith to leave everything else for Him?
I stood and walked into the light. I wasn't alone. My friends, my family, everyone I had ever loved was there. I was filled with awe, joy, peace, love – all the old metaphors. I needed nothing, wanted nothing but to remain in the light. In choosing God, I gained it all.
I joined hands with the others standing in the light and faced outward toward the crowd standing outside the light. They were too afraid and too attached to their worldly lives to step forward. We prayed for them, united regardless of denomination, nationality or race. The light moved forward, embracing anyone who didn't look or walk away, enveloping them in the same ecstasy.
And then I understood. When circumstances become overwhelming and fear and worry take hold, I need to remember the light and what is waiting there. This suffering, this struggle will pass, and I can rejoice in that. As Richard Rohr stated, if I do enough rejoicing the end result will be a happy heart in spite of my circumstances. In other words, I am not to wallow in the ugly. Instead I am to look for good, even if it is only in the next life.
I will never be alone, separated or forgotten. This has been proven over and over, and yet I still falter. I will continue to falter. However, God will send the light in the form of a caring friend, a much needed scripture verse or even a rainbow. He'll be there, waiting.
Now, that is something to rejoice in.