Sorrow, Joy, and Gratitude

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I got off the plane in Tokyo looking for a quiet place. I had been in the air for seven hours, and I knew that the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians had played the 7th game of the World Series during my flight. I did not know if this was going to be good news or bad news for me. You see, I’m a Cubs fan, and I have experienced the highs and lows of this “wait ‘til next year” team. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. It has been a 108 years of “almosts,” and I wanted a quiet place to find out if it would be 109.

I opened up my cell phone to discover that the Cubs had won 8-­7 in 10 innings. In that moment of surprise and joy, a flood of memories flowed over me from almost 50 years of listening and watching games. I thought of my 91-­year-old mother-­in-­law who is a Cubs fan and who could now celebrate a win in the World Series. I thought of my father­-in-­law who had passed away and would never see this day.

As I was going through O’Hare Airport on the day after the Cubs’ win, I stopped to buy a championship t­-shirt. In the midst of rejoicing, I witnessed a man wearing a Cleveland Indians hat come over to the Cubs W display, visibly sigh, then walk away. The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series championship since 1948; now those fans will have to “wait ‘til next year.” In that moment, I was reminded that joy and sorrow are almost always mixed.

We sometimes separate praise and lament—which are really just outcries of our joys and sorrows—as if they don’t belong together. But I have found as I’m sure you have that the relationship is more complicated than that. Joy and sorrow are nearly always intertwined, building on one another, as in this passage I recently preached on from Lamentations 3:19­-24:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

This season is marked by memories. As I walked with families as a pastor, I saw again and again that the U.S. Thanksgiving and Christmas season brings joy and sorrow. It is a time when families and friends gather in celebration, but experience the pain of a loved one no longer with them, or the realization that there is so much pain and suffering in this world.

What can help undergird the experiences of joys and sorrows is the discipline of gratitude. Gratitude is deeper than the immediate circumstances. Gratitude takes the long view. Gratitude takes a step back and trusts that God is still at work and that He has promised to be at work for us and our salvation.

In this season of joy and sorrow, I hope that we all can find gratitude that deepens our journey of faith.

And as we count our blessings and wait for the coming King, I know that I am deeply grateful for the supportive community that comes alongside the students, faculty, and staff of Calvin Seminary. We appreciate all that you do!

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