A few months ago I joined my daughter Abby for a “celebration dinner” that wreaked of disappointment and exhaustion. Our dinner at the Cheesecake Factory was tempered with tears and quiet moments, but we also felt a sense of soaring relief and hope for the future. We had unanswered questions and doubts, but we also relished success and sweet, sweet victory.
For over a year Abby had anticipated the day on which she would have to re-audition for her Bachelor of Fine Arts program in theater performance. The first year in the program had been challenging and productive; she had received praise and affirmation from her professors. But we knew from other students’ experiences that there were no guarantees that she would be readmitted at the end of the year.
The audition came and went and Abby had felt confident that she performed her monologue to the best of her ability. Then she had to wait.
On the day they released the results, students were to pick up their sealed envelopes in the theater building, take them away from the building, and open them in privacy. When Abby approached the building she saw students either sighing in relief over the contents of their envelopes or weeping quietly.
By the time my daughter took her envelope to a quiet, secluded place to open it, she was already dealing with the disappointment of several classmates being cut from the program. But when she opened her letter she simply read “Congratulations….” and shut the envelope.
Then she burst into tears.
When she called me on the telephone to report the results, I couldn’t tell if she had made the cut or not. She was sobbing and out of breath and her words were lost in the emotion of the moment. Exhausted from the emotional torment of waiting to hear the news, she was both elated and drained.
By the time I picked her up to go to dinner that evening, Abby had calmed herself. But while she was dressed to celebrate, she also wore the mantle of mourning for the ten or so students who had been cut from the program, students finishing both their freshman and sophomore years. Her own sophomore mentor had been released from the program, as had several dear friends from her own class.
At dinner our conversation switched back and forth between rejoicing over her own victory and speculating about what went wrong for the other students, between grinning and laughing with relief to weeping and sitting in silence with sorrow.
But as I drove the 90 miles home that late night, exhausted from sharing the depths of Abby’s torn emotions, I still felt joy bubbling up inside. God had been good. Not only had He blessed Abigail and given her favor (that I had desperately prayed for) in the eyes of her professors, but He had sustained her through the exhausting process and developed godly character in her along the way. Abby was joyful for her accomplishment, but she was also compassionate and caring, broken hearted for the disappointment her friends faced. My little girl had taken one more important step toward becoming the woman God created her to be. And His glory shone all over her that precious but painful night.
Celebrating is often bittersweet, isn’t it? Whether we’re celebrating Christmas hundreds of miles from home and the people we love, eating birthday cake without the spouse who recently passed away, toasting the crossing of the finish line while sporting blisters on our feet or relishing a victory in which someone else tasted defeat, celebrations are often a strange mixture of hope and disappointment, satisfaction and longing, and relief and exhaustion.
When refugees in Jerusalem gathered for the reading of God’s Word and the celebration of the Feast of Booths, they also experienced a strange mixture of weeping and rejoicing. You can find out more about the ups and downs of their festival here. But in the end, joy won out over their tears. Why? Because when we pause to remember what God has done in our lives, even through the dark nights and long waits and rough times and hard journeys, there is great joy.
As we remembered the events of September 11, 2001, we surely felt the pain and confusion and fear of that day all over again. We all remembered where we were when we heard the news of buildings demolished, lives ended and security threatened. And we probably need to wrestle with the trauma of that day and the pain that ensued occasionally.
But let’s make room for the joy, too. Joy for the mysterious ways God worked all things together for good. Joy for the healing and restoration and hope that has followed. Joy for the growth that grew out of upturned ground and rubble. Joy for the miracles and the miracle workers and the miracle receivers. Joy for God’s grace and goodness and faithfulness and peace…amidst the mayhem.
Are you celebrating a milestone or victory in recent days? Are you also tasting the bittersweet mixture of triumph and defeat, bliss and loss, victory and weariness? The moment will only be characterized by fleeting happiness unless you purposefully choose joy…by noticing God’s goodness and grace through the ups and downs.
Give Him praise and He’ll give you joy.