The apostle Paul encourages us to: Rejoice in the Lord always. (Philippians 4:4) Yet, how can we accept his words with any sense of integrity? The constancy of always troubles us. Rejoicing, when there is so much that is broken, sick, and distressful in our lives and in our world, feels unattainable and even cruel.
We rejoice always because joy is a journey. It is a journey of gratitude and love in the companionship of Jesus who promises us new life beyond our pain. Journeys are a mixed bag. We walk. We run. We stumble. We rest. We get lost. But we stay the course. We don’t give up. Joy’s journey works the same way. It is stubborn persistence to stay the course and not give up that defines rejoicing always.
The poet Mary Oliver has wise words for us on the necessity of walking the journey of joy:
Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
From Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press 2010