Counter sadness with joy
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of letters Paul Graves is writing to his grandchildren about St. Francis’ Prayer of Peace.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
When Grandma and I visited you last month, Andy reminded me of something important. One afternoon, he told me how much he wished Papa (my dad) was still alive. Then he said he doesn’t miss Granny as much because he doesn’t remember her very well. (He was only 2 when she died.) That makes sense to me, kids.
So I think about that when I visit St. Francis’ Prayer of Peace and read the next step on our Peace Journey: “Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.” Our memories are strong triggers of both sadness and joy, aren’t they?
But I think the writer of this beautiful prayer was also thinking about more than temporary feelings of sadness and joy. Our spirits are greater than those temporary feelings.
Andy was sad about Papa not being with us just for a few minutes; but then we got on with playing our game of catch, laughing as we had before. I too had a sad moment during our conversation, but the joy of my long-time memories of Papa (and Granny) was greater than my momentary sadness.
The depth of sadness and joy that we can experience is part of what makes us humans created in God’s image. We easily imagine God being sad when children go to bed hungry; or when people suffer because politicians can’t find a healthy way to work with other politicians.
Those kinds of things make us very sad, so we’re pretty certain God must feel sad, too. In Matthew 23:37-38, we see Jesus so sad over how Jerusalem rejected God’s prophets, and all he wanted to do was comfort the people as a hen gathers her chicks under wings – but they rejected him too. Sadness deeper than we’ve known.
But we can also imagine God filled with joy when the simplest things remind us that love overcomes sadness – stopping to help a schoolmate who is crying on the sidewalk, or the sheer happiness when children and parents embrace each other, whether they are comforting one another or celebrating a great joy.
As you continue to grow up, kids, remember that your faith in God will be uneven. By that I mean that sometimes you will be filled with joy and hope, but at other times your faith may seem thin and even worthless.
Have you had moments yet when you’ve been fearful or sad about your beliefs and your faith in God? If not, you will. That is part of being human.
But remember that God will never lose faith in your ability to live through your fears, your sadness. As you grow older and more experienced, hang onto the joyful memories. They can steady you when you feel out-of-balance.
One of the mysteries of God is how family members, friends, priest, nun or an unexpected person can say “the right thing” or be the right person to bring joy to you.
Another of God’s mysteries is that you may bring joy to another person – maybe in our family, maybe a total stranger or someone in between – without even realizing you are that right person in the right place at the right time.
But wouldn’t you rather bring joy accidentally than sadness on purpose? I certainly would.
Love and joy, kids – even when we’re sad, Grampa
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.