Best of Daily Reflections: The Melding of Joy and Grief

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Peals of laughter and a chorus of squeals drifted from the living room into the kitchen, where I stood with my hands in a sink full of dirty dishes. Heaviness rested on my chest like an x-ray apron as I methodically rinsed each plate and bent to place it in the dishwasher. Even the most mundane chores felt laborious when grief draped the house like an impenetrable fog.

“How is he even able to laugh? How can he be having fun?” I wondered as I leaned against the doorframe, damp dishtowel in my hands, and watched my husband roughhouse with our two young boys. They were engaged in an epic tickle war, and all three of them screamed with laughter until they fell, spent, onto the carpet in a heap.

My husband’s father was dying of lung cancer, yet in the midst of fear and grief, Brad managed to embrace joy. I didn’t understand how such joy was possible. I couldn’t escape the darkness of grief that enveloped me.

Weeks later, long after the memorial service had passed, I asked my husband how he’d been able to summon such joy during that depressing time. His answer surprised me. Sometimes he’d faked it, he admitted, going through the motions for the kids’ sake. But other times the tickling and giggling had somehow birthed a genuine joy—a respite from the pervasive grief. Playing with the kids had wedged open a crack. And, just for a moment, a shaft of light had sliced through the darkness.

It’s not always easy to remember that God is with us in these difficult times. Often we are so consumed by our own devastation that we forget God is right there with us, even in the most awful moments. These unexpected flashes of joy, these moments when we allow ourselves to succumb to frivolity and silliness are a reminder that God is present, shining his love and compassion upon us.

I refused to allow myself joy during that terribly difficult time because I felt guilty, as if my happiness would disrespect or perhaps even betray my father-in-law. But observing Brad and my kids laugh helped me understand that joy can accompany grief. These two powerful emotions needn’t be kept separate, but instead can overlap, one flowing seamlessly into the other. I see now that God’s presence is experienced more vividly and palpably in these moments when heaven and earth meld. I believe when we feel joy, even as the weight of grief hangs heavy, we experience the nearness of a God who is with us wherever we go.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever felt an unexpected surge of joy as you walked through a difficult time? How did you account for that feeling? Did you ever feel guilty about having fun or experiencing joy in the midst of grief?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the gift of fun and joy and for reminding me that you intend for me to enjoy these gifts, even as I walk through times of grief and suffering. I am so grateful for these moments of joy, for your Light shining through the darkness. Amen.


The Work of Play

Play is not just for kids. If you are under pressure in your work, a spirit of play can lead to balance, creativity, and good health. In our hyper-productive world, we need to learn how to play again—at home, on the job, and even in worship. This article is part of our series The Work of Play. If someone you know needs to rediscover the joy of play, invite them to the conversation on The High Calling.