Focus, Gratitude

The Balance of Joy and Pain

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

What do people really have after all their work and struggling in this life? Throughout their life, they have pain, frustrations, and hard work. Even at night, a person’s mind does not rest. This is also senseless.  There is no one who has tried to enjoy life more than I have.

Pain is inevitable.  Every day we live it, breath it, see it, feel it, and touch it.  Living in this world is uncomfortable and it always will be.  Pain is here to stay.  We simply cannot get rid of it. 

The question I have been asking lately is how much attention do I give to pain and how much attention do I give to joy?   Which one do I dote on and which one do I neglect?

Just last week, my daughter, Jeanne and I spent 3 days in an Airbnb in Brookings, Oregon that sits on a cliff on a deserted beach.  It was breathtaking.  Yet, as I lay in bed at night with my own private view of the beach while listening to the waves crashing against the rocks and sand, I was overcome with sadness.  I had just seen on my iPhone that day the explosion that occurred in downtown Beirut, Lebanon.  I have brothers and sisters in Christ in that city. On Facebook I heard them speak words full of sorrow for the people who were suffering.  I was surrounded by God’s peaceful creation while seeing an unspeakable tragedy at the same time.  My question at the beach was this: Do I have the right to be at peace and enjoy this Airbnb when the world is in chaos around me?

The Beach House in Brookings, Oregon

Every single day there is news that breaks my heart.  The recent explosion that occurred in Beirut, Lebanon.  The deaths and new cases of COVID-19 that keep rising.  The wrangling between political parties.  The books I have been reading about the proliferation of racism since the birth of our country (The Warmth of Other Suns is the current book I am reading about the epic story of America’s great migration to help me understand racism in our country).  Also added to the mix is my own emotional pain from negative self-talk.  The balance last week was tilting more toward pain and joy was starting to get neglected.   

So how does one balance pain with joy when the news is showing unrelenting pain?

The only way I can answer this question is to go back to the Bible and see what God has to say about joy and pain. 

But first let’s look at the definition of balance.  Dictionary.com has a lot to say about this word and it supplies some great examples.  Here are the ones that I resonated with.

Balance: 

  1. The power of ability to decide an outcome by throwing one’s strength influence support to one side or the other. 
  2. Mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgement.
  3. In winemaking, the degree to which all the attributes of a wine are in harmony, with none either too prominent or deficient. 

I love all these definitions, but the winemaking analogy is my favorite. Imagine drinking wine that has too much sugar or too much sulfur dioxide.  As you sip it your face scrunches, and your lips tighten. A natural physiological reaction occurs because the ingredients are not blended correctly.

If I were to relate winemaking to life, I would say it this way:  All the attributes of life, the good, the exhilarating, the bad, and the horrendous are in harmony – with none either too prominent or deficient. 

Life is like drinking a fine glass of wine.  The ingredients are not pleasant at all when each one is tasted separately, but when perfectly blended, they make the wine go down easy and the physiological reaction is tempered. 

David, King of Israel, wrote Psalm 69.  In these few statements, he demonstrates how to give equal weight to pain and joy.

But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me.

30 I will praise God’s name in song
    and glorify him with thanksgiving.

David blended his affliction and pain with his joy and thanksgiving of the Lord.   They existed together.  They were balanced.  He did not deny his pain, yet he did not let his pain rule over him and dominant his thoughts. 

How did he balance his pain with his joy?  God was his focus.  He asked for salvation and protection from God.  Oh, how we need protection.  Don’t we?   He then praises God in song and glorifies him with thanksgiving.  Gratitude.  Sweet gratitude. How this soothes our pain. 

How did Jesus deal with pain and joy?

The Bible says in Isaiah 53:3-5 that Jesus was familiar with pain. 

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

Jesus was familiar with pain.  I do not have a savior who cannot relate to what we are going through on this earth.  Jesus teaches me that pain is not to be dreaded, avoided, hated, or rejected.  Why?  Because if Jesus rejected pain in his life, I would not be healed.  By his wounds we are healed. 

Jesus balanced his pain with joy.

Hebrews 12:1-2 And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This verse in Hebrews helps me tip the balance back towards joy.

Jesus said these words to his disciples while still with them on this earth.

John 15:11-13   11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

During the time Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, they were realizing that following Him was not the popular and easy road to take.  Jesus mixed pain and joy in his message to his disciples.  He warned them of persecution and of his pending death.  Yet, Jesus says our joy can be complete even with pain in the mix. And most of all, Jesus told them to focus on loving one another. Love brings pain but also joy.

So, in conclusion.  How do I balance pain and joy?

I accept pain as part of life.  I don’t resist or hate it; however, I don’t give it all my attention and let it dominant my thoughts. I take Jesus’s command to love one another to heart. Pray like David did for his salvation and for God to protect him. Pray for others the same way. Imitate Jesus’s heaven bound focus.

What is the formula for balancing pain and joy?  I think it looks like this.

Pain + Joy = Joy.     

2 thoughts on “The Balance of Joy and Pain”

    1. Thank you for reaching out and letting me know this helped. We have shared so much of our joy and pain in many conversations over the past 3 years and we have fought to tip the balance towards joy. You are good at doing this. ♥️

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