Sadness and Joy

In Disney’s Inside Out, a hockey-playing twelve-year-old girl named Riley struggles to adapt to the emotional upheaval of a cross-country move. The story follows two of her emotions — Joy and Sadness — as they embark on a journey across the landscape of Riley’s mind in a last-ditch  effort to heal her breaking heart. Thinking themselves opposites at first, Joy and Sadness can’t stand each other, until they realize that some of Riley’s most profound experiences of joy occur in the midst of the saddest moments in her life, like when she realizes it’s okay to miss home because she’ll always have her parents’ love.

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There’s a clear echo here of what we call the resurrection — out of the depths of sorrow and death rises nothing less than joy and life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament,” says Jesus in John 16, “but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” We may be tempted to think this means that God will erase all our sorrows and wholly replace them with joy, but the story of Scripture tells us something else. Even our worst memories won’t simply be erased; instead, they’ll be redeemed. When viewed in the light of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, our sufferings become moments for rejoicing in the incredible, sacrificial love of God.

And yet, doesn’t God promise to wipe away every tear from our eyes and to do away with all mourning and crying and pain (Revelation 21:4)? I’ve met a number of people over the years who, like me, continue to suffer from panic attacks because we’re all haunted by something in our pasts. Like them, I often wonder, “How could I ever experience true joy if I’ve still got these horrible memories echoing inside my head?” But, there’s a reason Jesus’ scars remained on his hands and feet even after he rose from the dead, and there’s a reason we’ve all embraced the cross — that “emblem of suffering and shame” — as representative of our greatest hope. It’s because, like Disney’s cartoon Riley, we learned a long time ago that even the deepest wounds can be become seed for our most joyful memories when we experience the healing power of Christ in them.

A soup bowl in the Kintsugi style.
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A few years ago, I ran across a style of Japanese pottery that really brought this idea of joy from sadness home. It’s called Kintsugi. When a ceramic bowl is dropped or otherwise broken, instead of throwing the pieces away, Kintsugi literally glues the shards back together using gold or silver lacquer. What results is an amazing piece of art.

As we look forward to the coming of Christ this Advent, we’re going to be tempted to look forward and not back. But, that would mean missing a lot of what makes Christ’s coming so joyful. It’s not that Jesus will erase the sufferings of our past. He will rather take them and stitches them back together again, and the end result will be something even more beautiful than Kintsugi. What will that be? It will be our sorrow transformed to joy.