I might have danced if I could. I might have boogied and wiggled and shaken my hips.
But instead, I wept. Leaning my head against the fiberglass wall of the hospital shower, salted tears streamed and washed clean my spirit while my body welcomed the warm flow of the fresh, hot water rushing over me.
Who cared that my IV line kept getting in the way! All my other tubes had been removed: the oxygen line from my nose, the horrid, loud, thumping pump that pulled drainage off of my lungs and collected it in a briefcase-like box… I was free, and alive.
I was a fish, a dolphin riding waves. I was sea-spray and morning dew and water balloons on a hot summer day. My hands trembled, weak as I was, when I squirted the shampoo and scrubbed my hair. I felt the velvet foam course down my back.
I sudsed and bubbled and the hot water reminded me, baptized me in life. Death had nearly won just two weeks ago. A dry August night, clear and starry-skied was to have been my last. But I was rescued and broken and mending and now sponge-baths were history!
I am alive, my lungs are strong, my organs knitting together where the doctor had patched them back together, my leg is throbbing there under the water stream, but I can see it and my red-painted toenails, and I am going home, I thought.
A wide smile broke the shadow of pain on my face and a laugh gurgled in me. I’m clean and going home! I looked down at the stitches and scabs and scars-to-be on my swollen, misshapen leg and blessed it with the holy, hospital shower water and a few salted tears.
Joy uncontainable. Full to bursting.
On the night of his arrest Jesus spoke truth over the disciples, promised even more than what he’d personally given them, and said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Eugene Peterson wrote, “It is as easy to separate experiences of joy from God as it is to separate experiences of suffering from God. If the result of the latter is bitterness, the result of the former is boredom.”
Also, “ Salvation is not only individual, it is corporate. In the corporateness, and because of it, there is joy. Joy is not a private emotion, it requires community for both its development and express. Joy, separated from its roots in God and pursued apart from the community of faith, becomes mere sensation.”
We really can’t have one without the other: suffering and joy. And to uproot our experiences of both joy and suffering from the good purpose of God is to reduce them to mere sensation, bitterness and boredom.
I took this to my writers group as a prompt. Write about a time your joy was uncontainable. If you measured your joy-o-meter right now, where would the needle fall? Write about that. Think about Christ facing the next events of his life (betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death)—why, knowing what his near future held, was he concerned about the fullness of the disciples’ joy?
Our writing, our opening hearts onto paper, helped us discover the truest joy comes in the face of, or because of, desperate suffering. One writer, a new gal to the group, wrote “to deny the suffering of Christ’s death is to deny the joy of the resurrection”.
We paused to consider joy. We wondered and found words.
I am a doubter, and like Thomas who needed to feel the wounds on the body of his resurrected rabbi, now savior, I want to hold proof in my hands.
I want undoubting faith and irrevocable fact to support my life-long process of faith. I don’t want to end up the fool.
Joy is the presence of the spirit of Christ, almost undefinable but truly undeniable.
Joy is the gift that is proof of its giver.
Joy is the mark of a life transformed, it is peace and hope and love welling and waving and rushing over a body and soul battered by the storms of life.
And once you know it, once you have it in your being and can recognize it in the transformed life of another, the doubts still make sense, but they cannot stand up against the proof of joy. I am overcome by joy, and glad of it.
When I awaken in the shadows, the house breathing in all its darkness, feeling the very terror of spinning through space on this small planet and wondering, questioning, doubting … I remember joy. Joy in the storm, joy in the pain, joy in the moments when death loomed, joy in the simple words:
I’ve told you this so that you may have my joy and that your joy may be complete.
I whisper in the dark: thank you.
Take a few moments and think (or write) about a time your joy was uncontainable – was it in the midst of a trial, framed by suffering, bookended by trials.
Joy is hope distilled into the pure drink of real satisfaction.
It is the experience that brings us into community…communion…common-unity with the joy-designer.
O that you might have joy, and have it to the full. Jump in, my friend, the water’s fine.