In Ezra 3, the temple is being rebuilt. Some people are rejoicing because they are excited for what is to come. Some people are weeping because they are heartbroken for what was. Ezra says it was hard to distinguish the sounds of weeping from the sounds of rejoicing.
I remember clearly the first time I thought about the idea of sounds of rejoicing and sounds of weeping happening all at once in Ezra. I recall reading the passage over and over again, realizing it comforted me. I felt safer about the mere idea of allowing joy in, knowing joy can be expressed in such close proximity to sorrow.
And the more I meditate on Ezra 3, the more I realize that so much of life is filled with intermingled sorrow and joy.
Sometimes we feel the entanglement of joy and sorrow in friendship, in marriage, in other types of family relationships. It’s strange how sometimes we can feel so connected to someone, so overjoyed by certain aspects of our relationship to them and at other moments—sometimes in the same day even—feel so unseen or misunderstood by them.
There are also entire days like this in life—the first day of daycare or kindergarten, the first day of a new grade or at a new school, the first day at a job, the end of a sport season, graduations, moving days, weddings, funerals. Often the feeling of profound, sometimes unspeakable sadness, and the feeling of profound, sometimes unspeakable joy is so tangled up in our hearts that we do not know whether we are crying for what was or what is or what is to come.
There are also literal times when we hear tears and joy together, as with the birth of a baby.
And afterward, many mothers cry at 3 am, unsure of whether they are crying from pure delight or pure exhaustion.
I’ve had friends tell me that parenthood is great joy from a love they had not previously known and simultaneously great grief from what can feel like a loss of self to a single identity—parent.
The other day I was watching a teen romantic comedy on Netflix. The main character said, “It is crazy how I can feel so happy and so sad at the same time. But as we get older, everything gets all mixed together.”
It’s so true.
This collision, this intermingled sorrow and joy is felt throughout our lives.
And there is now. In the midst of the aftermath of a pandemic, there are people in sorrow over the long-term effects of covid on their health and many who are mourning the death of a loved one.
Life is different for most of us. Relationships shifted. The nature of work and school and everyday life changed. Church life was transformed.
And some of this change is amazing and has opened us up or revealed what matters most and some of the change feels costly and overwhelming.
You might be feeling joy and sorrow in your own heart right now.
Here’s the thing: Your heart is not broken when you feel sorrow, or feel joy, or feel them intermingled in your soul all at once.
Your heart is working. It is doing its job.
Perhaps this is the peace that passes all understanding that the apostle Paul describes in Philippians chapter four.
It is the peace of people who know they can live honestly, exposed, fragile, human—in front of God. And it is the peace of a genuine Christian community that can huddle together in sorrow while being receptive to joy, a true community that allows each one of us to live honestly, exposed, fragile, human—with one another.
It is the peace of being resurrection people, people who realize that weeping is inevitable but rejoicing is always on the brink of possibility too.
Bio: Rev. Dr. Angela Williams Gorrell helps people and teams at top organizations have deep, life-changing experiences. Dr. Angela is the author of always on: practicing faith in a new media landscape and The Gravity of Joy: A Story of Being Lost and Found. She speaks and writes about joy, meaning, finding the life worth living, and the intersection of spiritual and mental health. Media sources such as the New York Times, NPR, and Christianity Today have highlighted her research. She has taught at several schools including Yale University, Baylor University, and Fuller and McCormick Seminary. Angela is a consultant and thought leader for numerous organizations. She utilizes her expertise to help create collaborative communities of prevention specifically working to lower suicide and addiction rates. You can find her on Instagram @angelagorrell. Angela and her sister, Stef, co-host The Grief Sisters podcast and The Grief Sisters book club & support group on Facebook.