The Paradox of Sorrow and Joy

Joy and Sorrow Are Two Parallel Tracks

The themes of joy and sorrow have been on my heart and mind recently. I’m sure, that at least to some degree, you have some level of sorrow in your life right now.

How would I know that? Because sorrow is a given. It’s a part of life in a fallen world. It’s a part of the daily grind with a sinful flesh. The source of that sorrow is often external—circumstances, bad news, hurt, loss, or past pain. At other times, the source is often internal—low days emotionally, fatigue, self-condemnation, disappointment, frustration, and internal struggles. (Sorry for bringing it back up.) Yes, sorrow is a given.

The mistake we make is in thinking that sorrow is the polar opposite end of a spectrum—as far as it can possibly be from joy at the other end. In other words, if I’m at the south pole of sorrow, then I am as far as I can possibly be from the north pole of joy. We see it as a continuum that makes one end exclusive to the other. By that logic, when I’m joyful, I’m far from sorrowful. And when I’m sorrowful, I’m far from joyful.

Friend, this is incorrect. It’s not a continuum or a spectrum. It’s two parallel tracks—like train tracks. One is sorrow and one is joy. And every moment of every day, I must choose on which track to travel. Sorrow is a given but so also is joy. Think about it…

Even as there is something to be sorrowful about in your world, isn’t there also something over which you can rejoice? Aren’t there things that eclipse and surpass our sorrow in gargantuan ways? Don’t we have hope, promises, and truth that dwarf our sorrows exponentially? Yes we do.

In Philippians the Apostle Paul rehearses the theme of rejoicing—over and over again he says, “REJOICE!” And every command flows from the pen of a man in prison who is facing much sorrow. He calls it “sorrow upon sorrow.” And yet, over and over again he says, “I’m rejoicing!”

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.—Philippians 4:4

Sorrow and joy are not opposite ends of a spectrum. They are two “givens.” They always exist in every life, in close proximity to each other. The potential for sorrow haunts us every day. The door to joy is open to us every day.

Sorrow is a given. Joy is a given. My decision is the hinge on which my experience swings.

Only Jesus makes it possible for you to be joyful no matter what. I pray for you today—that you will choose to rejoice. I pray that the gospel will be vibrant from your heart of joy, and that your loving, gracious spirit will minister to all those around you—even while there are reasons for sorrow. More than that, I pray this will not be a forced choice as much as a natural response to explosive gospel truth.

Joy is not merely a command to be coerced or forced upon your emotions—it’s more so, a combustible, irrepressible outflow of deeper truth that sets you free from and overcomes sorrow with a greater reality. Joy is not the absence of sorrow. Joy is simply a choice to allow the deeper truth and greater hope of the gospel to swallow up my sorrow. I hope that will be the case in your life today!

…for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.—Nehemiah 8:10

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