Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your Grief Will Become Joy

May 22, 2009

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

By Melanie Rigney

One night while Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him in a vision, "Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city." He settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God among them. (Acts 18:9-11)

All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries. (Psalms 47:2)

Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything.” (John 16:20-23)


Thank you, Lord, for giving me joy that no one can take away.


Almost exactly four years ago, I attended a U.S. bankruptcy court hearing at which the $181,825.70 in credit card debt I held jointly with my estranged husband was scheduled for aggressive repayment. I wasn’t sure how we’d racked up that much debt, but it didn’t matter. I would be the only one repaying it because of the disparity in my and my husband’s incomes.

I grieved ... for a twenty-one-year marriage and even longer friendship lost; for the disgrace of forever having a bankruptcy in my records; and for the fact that other than my loving, marvelous sister, I had no friends close enough geographically with whom I could share this anguish. I had no idea how I’d buy groceries, let alone pay my share of the rent, after the repayment amount was deducted from my paycheck every two weeks for three years. After the hearing, I cried and vomited. It was the most humiliating day of my life.

I remember those emotions only because I wrote about them close to that time. It all seems a lifetime away as I prepare to go to dinner this evening with two Cursillistas, more than $100,000 in debt repaid, savings in the bank, and a bevy of friends who keep my datebook filled. Funny how much of my life’s anguish was eased and joy was kindled just a few months later when I summoned up the courage to tiptoe back into the Church of my childhood.

I share this not to brag, because bankruptcy and repaying only a share of a six-figure debt is nothing to brag about. But I suspect the way I feel about that time is somewhat similar to the way mothers feel about labor: searing, sharp, indescribable anguish. But on the other side, the immense joy blurs and softens the pain.

A good friend occasionally teases me about my need to benchmark, to see where I am spiritually compared to six months or a year or four years earlier. Part of it’s my nature; part of it is that my federal job requires continual analysis of numbers and forecasting. But the biggest part, I think, is my way of expressing gratitude for the faith and joy and peace spots where the anguish took me.

In a thoughtful essay titled, “Problems Never Leave You Where You Started,” my friend Cec Murphey, co-author of the best-selling Ninety Minutes in Heaven, explained the joys that come from accepting and learning from our struggles:

I realize that I am who I am today because of those problems (experienced in childhood) and not in spite of them. I've learned to understand others' pain, rejection, discouragement, and abuse. I understand because I've experienced similar issues and allowed them to shape my life. Because of God's grace I'm a better person for those experiences.

No, problems never do leave us where we started. With grace, they take us not to a place of bitterness and melancholy and perpetual fear, but to a place where we clap our hands and shout joyful cries for what they’ve taught us.


Someone you know is in anguish. Share with that person the story of a time when you were in intense pain ... and how life looks on the other side.

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