Monday, December 16, 2019

Tis the Season for Joy (and Sorrow)

A few days ago, my son was regaling his daughters with stories of Christmases past, particularly in the last home his father and I shared.  It was a splendid home, large, warm and welcoming in an upper middle-class neighborhood in the Midwest.  It was a consummate “holiday” house because it lent itself so well to wonderful holiday decorations and large parties.  But it was also the house whose front door was broken down one cold morning as police executed a search warrant. The memories I have of the house brings joy but also sorrow—bitter and sweet.

Temple Mount, Jerusalem
I was recently reminded of a story from the Old Testament that is kind of strange to read during this season of the year but maybe not so strange.  The temple in Jerusalem—that center of worship—had been destroyed by the Babylonians and many of the land’s residents had been carried into exile.  Seventy years later, the new king of the land decreed that the exiles could return to their native country and commissioned them to rebuild the temple.  When the builders laid the foundation of the temple, the people threw a party to celebrate but not everyone felt joyful—those who remembered the glory of the old temple were sorrowful because they knew that the rebuilt temple would not equal the majesty of the destroyed one.  There were shouts of joy and sounds of weeping that were so loud that one could not distinguish the sounds of the joy from those of the weeping.

Ancient Judean ruins
Those of us who have experienced the trauma of relationship betrayal probably understand better than most the season of joy and sorrow.  Like the exiles, we may have been kicked out of our lives or sat in the ash heap or ruins of what once was trying to find a remnant of the joy we once knew.  We may long for the life we once had while also being greatly relieved and joyful in this new normal of a life we have built.  While we are so grateful to have survived, like those exiles, we still bear the scars of the traumas we have experienced.  We still feel the pain of wounds that are healing but still hurt enough to remind us that something went very wrong in our lives and in our relationships.

There is an odd sentence in the Biblical narrative of the exiles returning home. It describes the returning exiles as being in dread of the neighboring peoples.  Not all of the Judean inhabitants had been carried into captivity.  The elite of the community were taken first but many “commoners” were allowed to remain in the land.  The elite were religious and civic leaders who were probably the wealthier inhabitants.  Their land and possessions were taken by those who remained.  So, there was a loss of status and economic security for the exiles.  In their former lives, they were esteemed as leaders and upstanding citizens; their captivity ended that identity and their return threatened the new lives the remaining inhabitants had created.

How many of us can fully identify with the fear and trauma these returning exiles experienced?  We too once had an identity, reputation and status that was ripped from us by the actions of our betrayer.  We still feel the sting of that loss and maybe still feel the fear that we will be judged guilty simply by our relationship with a perpetrator.  We sometimes fear the dread of our neighbors—not because of our actions or behavior but because of what the addict, pedophile or abuser in our lives has done.

Western Wall--Wailing Wall
Joy and sorrow—two ends of a spectrum of emotion that we are capable of experiencing as humans created in the image of God.  The holiday season presents so many opportunities to experience both, and that is ok.  Life is not black and white nor is it a Hallmark movie.  Stuff happens, we break and we hurt.  Sitting with both emotions is a healthy and appropriate response to the season, particularly in light of loss.  

My hope and prayer for you is that you experience the gift of presence as you navigate these days of joy and sorrow—that you embrace the paradox of both emotions and celebrate the gift that you are.  You are who you are today precisely because of all that you have experienced and you have so much to offer a hurting world.  Relish the joy and welcome the tears—they both are a reflection of the journey that has brought you to this day.  Merry Christmas and may the New Year bring more joy than sorrow!

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