I think it’s natural to reflect on the past year when a new one begins. As humans, we like to quantify and categorize thoughts and experiences, and we often nostalgically find ourselves looking back on yearly increments.
So, I – like several thousands of others – have found myself reviewing 2018, searching for an overarching insight or theme to help me understand the events of the last twelve months.
I feel as though I am looking through the past year as someone might browse a clothing store for a good sale. I walk slowly, stopping every so often to examine some memories quickly, walking briskly through other areas, determined to avoid them. And yet some memories catch my attention and I slow down, stop, and take a moment to really see them and absorb them, hold them in my hands, breathe them in, and then let them fall away as I continue moving forward.
For me, 2018 held a lot of sorrow. And obviously, I felt the sorrow when it was happening – I don’t need to look back on the year to remember the emotion of it. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed with sadness when you’re constantly sick, going through a bad breakup, feeling anxious about graduating from college, or learning the challenges of adulthood.
As soon as I would get a grip on one thing, another would come up – I constantly felt ill-equipped for the struggles I faced. My normally sporadic and episodic depression increased with every passing day, and some days were burdened by the mere weight of living.
Through it all, I wanted faith to be a refuge from the struggles. I wanted to curl up inside of a safe place made by God and let the waves crash around me, freed from the anxiety and crushing sadness my circumstances precipitated. But there was no haven, not yet.
I used to think that sadness and hurt were emotions to pray away – that joy and freedom meant I would never be sad or upset again. The bible verse I often heard quoted when I was upset was: …Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah chapter 8, verse 12), and my life (even further back than 2018) was defined by this framework. I thought that joy and sadness could not coexist and that negative emotions of any kind meant I was failing to be a good Christian. Several well-meaning friends through the years have said things like, “You can choose joy!” and “God will bless you if you pray hard enough.”
Although never intentionally malicious, I soon began believing that my sadness was because God did not love me enough to free me from it, and that my worth came from the ability to lessen my “negative” emotions. I lived under the weight of these unintentional chains because I could not reconcile grief with being loved. If God loved me, wouldn’t He give me a joy to replace sorrow?
And 2018 felt no different at the beginning: I constantly berated myself for feeling overwhelming emotions, wondering what I was doing wrong, convinced that God had abandoned me because I felt sadness or bitterness or regret. I could not see the joy of the Lord, or even the Lord himself; all I could see was the struggle. I could not even begin to fathom how the joy of the Lord could be any kind of strength, let alone my strength.
I felt entirely alone
And yet, as I pass through these memories of 2018, I can see them through a wider lens – a lens hard won through the steady progression of time. I’ve found myself breathing in the memories of the past year and accepting them, seeing joy in them, and possibly even loving them.
I’ve found that Jesus meets me and sits with me in the sorrow and that His presence is complexly both. Both sorrow and joy, both peace and expectancy, both laughter and tears. He patiently sits with me in the hard to navigate places between mourning and peace, and I feel incredibly human as I sit with the epitome of humanity Himself in these tensions.
Jesus has not abandoned the sorrowful; I just could not see Him because I was looking for an overwhelming and immediate change in my emotions. Yet, as always, Jesus comes to us in the most unexpected ways.
Looking back, I can see His strength built on this loving presence that doesn’t entirely negate my sorrow, but instead opens it wider to allow more love in. And it is in this space of bittersweet communion between joy and sorrow that I meet the divine humanity of Jesus again and again.
Rebecca constantly strives to practically share God's love and grace to those around her; she also loves fuzzy socks, her five sisters, pink and orange