“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 36:10)
The weight of our world’s news burdens us with despair over the violence of war, rising hate crimes, devastating natural disasters and entrenched political divides. In the introduction to his edited collection Joy: 100 Poems, Christian Wiman writes that “joy is the only inoculation against the despair to which any sane person is prone, the only antidote to the nihilism that wafts through our intellectual atmosphere like sarin gas.” Despair is a constant. Joy must be sought.
I’ve often counseled people who are going through difficult times to intentionally seek joy. Observe the majesty of a sunset. Listen to giggling children. Receive a friend’
s hug. Offer a random act of kindness. Seek joy, I’ve advised, not to demean or downplay their anguish, but to help them find their way through it. Moments of joy can serve as steppin-stones through the desert of despair.
Isaiah 35:10 describes the Israelites’ return after exile, through the wilderness to the promised land. Unlike their exodus journey, this pilgrimage is marked with rejoi8cing. The trials of God’s people are not over. The enemies that surround them are real and powerful. But the message of seeking joy during suffering is meaningful no matter where we are on our journey.
Examine: Sit with your despair. In what ways do you feel powerless? Breathe. Notice thoughts and feelings that arise.
Imagine: Imagine yourself walking through a desert of despair. Your journey is long, you are suffering from heat and thirst, the sand burning beneath your feet. Then, imagine desert crocuses blossoming, waters and streams beginning to flow, ready to quench your thirst and the land’s. The burning sands are cooled, leading you to break into a song, or shouts of joy, praising God.
Pray: Free me from this burden, O God, so I can live with your blessing.