Giving Way to Joy

Last week I wrote about guns, something with which I have very little experience. That post spawned a few interesting conversations (which were unexpected and intense and interesting, so thanks everyone). So I thought this week I would write about something I have zero experience with —

Childbirth.

Ok, I’m obviously not completely ignorant about childbirth (I do have 2 kids, after all), but it’s only from a detached perspective. I mean, I was there, but that doesn’t mean I have the first clue about what it’s really like. (And don’t worry, ladies, there’s no way I’m gonna even try to pretend that I understand).

There’s still some beautiful mystery to the whole matter of bringing a baby into the world. It’s one of those things in life we can explain scientifically, yet it can still amaze us that it actually happens and things actually work. A birth is always somewhat of a surreal experience.

There’s something I’ve always heard about the birthing process that I want to talk about. My guess is that you’ve heard something similar: Women are able to forget the pain of giving birth.

I guess I can follow the logic. Because the whole process is nerve racking and amazing, but also involves an incredible amount of pain. Who would voluntarily go through that process again? On that level it makes sense.

BRYNB_006webbwWMThe only problem is that scientific studies are telling us that it’s not true.

There have been several studies done in recent years that women can often vividly recall details of pain in childbirth, although those memories are subject to the same inaccuracies as all our memories. It seems like mothers’ recall of pain is related to all kinds of factors regarding their satisfaction with the birthing experience, from doctors and nurses to hospital facilities and complications.

In other words, there is no mysterious magic that makes the pain of childbirth — or the memory of it — go away.

What is verifiable, however, is something called the “halo effect.” This term describes the positive emotions and rush of brain chemicals when a mother holds her baby for the first time. In that moment, a mother is likely to have a better view of the birth experience than she did just minutes prior.

In other words, the happiness felt in that moment does not change that the pain is remembered.
Instead, that happiness changes how the pain is remembered.

Which leads me to a couple of thoughts:

First, women are amazing. Seriously — go hug your mom or wife or sister or grandma right now. Like right now. They are amazing and deserve to be told so.

Second, this describes the role that joy plays in our lives. Joy does not gloss over the pain of life. It does not ignore problems or make dilemmas disappear. Joy simply affects how we view the these difficulties.

The gospel writer John described how joy works this way:

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. (John 16:20-24)

Anguish that gives way to joy.

Sometimes as Christians we are tempted to paint an idyllic picture of our existence. Our belief in what God is doing in the world makes us want to show the world how great everything is. As if our lives were always on an upward trajectory and problems were merely insignificant speed bumps along the way. Turn on Christian television programming or peruse the book titles in your local Christian bookstore and you can easily get this idea.

But we know the truth of our existence isn’t always like that. We don’t always feel like we’re overcoming. The truth is much more painful and dirty and complicated than that.

The joy of following Christ does not make all of the pain go away.

Jesus connects us with a joy that makes our way through the pain instead of around it. He shows us the path that makes all of the complications worth it. He doesn’t transport us to a different life; he shows us the value to our own existence.

Joy doesn’t change our circumstances, it simply gives us a better way to view them.

So today may you look at Christ in the world like a new mother holding her baby. May any anguish you feel give way to joy because Jesus has come into the world.

And may the whole world feel the joy, love and peace of Christ.
Indeed, joy to the world.

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