Is joy OK during difficult times?
Sometimes life just doesn’t seem like a laughing matter. But opening our hearts to God empowers us to feel the God-given hope and joy that uplift and heal.
I watched my young nephew running around with my dog as they chased each other in the park. I couldn’t help but smile and laugh at the sounds of his giggles and squeals of sheer delight when he called to my dog to chase him and she obliged and bounded off after him. In that moment, with the fresh autumn air and the red and gold leaves on the trees, everything seemed perfect and the world felt full of love and life and joy.
Later that day after he left, I was catching up on the news. It seemed as though the world was in a pretty serious state. I found myself wondering how I could, in a single day, have such a beautiful, joy-filled moment and then feel such frustration and sadness at the state of things. It can sometimes feel as though our health, government, economy, basic human decency, and the fabric of our communities are all hanging in the balance. None of this seems like a laughing matter.
So, given all that, is it OK to laugh and feel joy at times like this?
I recently came across a story about Holocaust survivor Ernie Gross, who maintains that humor and hope are what got him through that horrific experience where he lost nearly everything, including most of his family members. One night while in a concentration camp, he had a dream that he was in a room with God, who sneezed, and Mr. Gross didn’t know what to say to Him. He found it humorous, and he’d regularly think back to that moment in the dream and it would make him laugh. Mr. Gross’s inspiring story points to the value of laughter and even joy during times of suffering (see Marion Callahan and Melina Walling, “Holocaust survivor shares message of hope, humor, forgiveness, 75 years after liberation,” Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 28, 2020).
Christian Science explains that joy is a quality of Spirit, another name for God, as it says in the Gospel of John: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (4:24). So to worship God in spirit, to me, means we must also express the Spirit that is God. And as we are created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26, 27), we must be like God. Therefore a spirit of joy is inherent within us.
This kind of spiritual joy has the power of God behind it. It is the light that shines within us, even in the dark, to help light the way for ourselves and others. Jesus told us to let our light shine, not for our own glory, but to glorify God. Letting our God-given light shine and expressing joy even during trying times can help others find their own joy, too. There’s a hymn in the “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603” that states, “We can share Your happiness, / Share Your joy and spend it freely” (Elizabeth C. Adams, alt., No. 474). This is not to say we should be insensitive or uncompassionate when others are struggling. Rather, we can find opportunities to uplift others. Even in the midst of what may seem like the darkest of times, God’s loving presence is right with us, here for us to feel when we open our hearts to it. And in that presence of the Divine, we can find peace and joy and hope, which we can hold on to to lift ourselves up as well as those around us.
Since joy is inherent within us, nothing can hamper our ability to feel and express this quality, which can also bring hope and healing. In the Bible, the Psalmist says, “In thy [God’s] presence is fulness of joy” (Psalms 16:11).
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of The Christian Science Monitor, puts it this way in a poem:
Hope happifies life, at the altar or bower,
And loosens the fetters of pride and of power;
It comes through our tears, as the soft summer rain,
To beautify, bless, and make joyful again.
(“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 394)
When we open our hearts to God, we can feel the presence of God’s love right where we are. This brings hope and joy that heal.