Then I [wisdom] was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.
-- Proverbs 8:30-31
I had a great aunt whose faith was the vehicle through which she served the world. She spent 40 years in ministry, cared for a disabled daughter and loved the same man for 60 years. Her life's work took her to people on reservations and in prisons, to senior citizens, migrants and gamblers. When she passed away four autumns ago it was in order to begin a long deserved rest.
When my aunt's health initially started to decline she told her husband that, should she pass on before him, she knew the woman he should marry. She named for him a woman they'd known some 57 years prior. A few months after my aunt's memorial, he found the woman she named, widowed now herself, and after many long distance phone calls and a visit, they were married in the spring.
My uncle's resolve demonstrates that there is a way to find joy during times of sorrow and it just might be to let sorrow do its work of leading us to joy. James says, 'Count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance and may endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.' Count it all can be defined as consider it all. I've written before about how this is a thinking word... a cognitive assent to think through, process, what the trial just might be doing to bring us to wholeness. The joy here is not necessarily a feeling, but a hopeful knowing.
In this season of life, I walk around with this mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy for what God led us to spend the last 15 months doing with people that were inspiring and generous and loyal. And yet sorrow for the pain of the piercing arrows I've endured, and even caused, in the days since we saw fit to let that chapter close. Some days I mourn and some days I dance. And feeling truly 'tossed by the wind' I know finding wisdom going forward will require that I abandon this double-mindedness.
Which brings me to Lent.
Over the past six years, Lent has proven to be the most formative time of year for me. The practices I've participated in have shaped, stretched and frustrated me. We've given up things like meat and income. I've taken up things like writing, prayer and presence. This year I wanted to resolutely set out to take up joy and gratitude but I wanted to make that more tangible and more effective for all of us in our home.
So, here it is. This year, I'm taking up laughing for Lent. And it's a family project. I heard it said, in a recent interview with April Smith, who lost her two young sons in an EF4 tornado back in May, that to live in sorrow would negate their life. And in that moment it occurred to me that no matter what the untold stories are of our last year, I needed to move firmly into the joy that comes from the bone-deep gratitude I feel as a result of it. I need to match what I know with what I feel. I think that's Paul's idea of 'making joy complete' -- to be one in spirit and in mind.
Every day I'll practice the abandon that might take the form of play or sport or celebration. I'll read truly witty authors, the kind that make me laugh out loud. I'll watch a movie once a week that's funny -- and not in the dark humor or frat party kind of way. My kids and I will practice levity and irony and watch Jimmy Fallon clips and go to family friendly improv. Even the people I spend time with need to be okay with calling out the absurdities of life and poking fun at our own faults. This Lent I am committed to laugh and laughter really only works when we do it together.
We tend to look at Lent as this somber time when we whip our own backs and kill our own spirits. But I believe that God loves it when we love life. My friend, Margaret Feinberg says, "Joy begins in God and all that exists was born in joy." (By the way, read her newest book. It will form the way you view joy). The book of Proverbs describes a women in this way: "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." When we're laughing at life we find a way to understand others and the events of our lives. When we're seeing the joy we're moving into wisdom. When gratitude is our lens then we can know the strength brought by abandon. Sorrow can be shackling, but laughter breaks the chains.
At my core, gratitude has already won. Now, for the next 40 days, my body will practice what my soul already knows. And on this next Resurrection Day I'll celebrate the delight of life. "Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight." -- Psalm 43:4
(**I know what I'm going to read, but I'm completely lost on funny movies. If you know some good ones, leave me a comment. Thanks!)