Rejoicing in the Midst of Sorrow - Kate Bowler

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Rejoicing in the Midst of Sorrow

If you attend a church that observes the liturgical calendar, this weekend you may have noticed the sanctuary decorated with flowers, clergy clad in pink vestments, and the organist may have been allowed her chance at that instrumental solo she has been longing to launch into. But why? Aren’t we observing Lent—a season for the losers? The fourth Sunday of Lent, is called Laetare or “Rejoicing” Sunday. In the midst of the season of discipline and repentance, this day is dedicated to being happy. The theme for the day is derived from the introit to the mass: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”

But why should one experience joy in a season of such sorrow? It is a burst of hope in the midst of a long walk, a reminder that Easter Sunday is only three weeks away. This is a living reminder that our journey is not aimless or endless. We are comforted in knowing that with every day we draw closer to that triumphal celebration of the defeat of Death itself.

The command to rejoice does something especially valuable for those of us in distress. As I have said before, pain and suffering isolate us; because our affliction is so real and undeniable and immediate, we are naturally persuaded to concentrate on it. And that path takes us deeper into dark places in ourselves where it is not always healthy to go—especially alone. Dwelling on our hurts—as if that is all we were—not only robs us of hope in the future, but, far worse, it robs us of our investment in the precious present. By failing to experience joy, even in the midst of crappy times, we can be engulfed entirely by our circumstances.

But it need not be so. We do not have to reduce ourselves to someone who exists only to endure hardship. In our suffering we must not exile ourselves from the love of God or of our daily joys. If we rejoice in all the capabilities and opportunities that remain with us—from sitting with a coffee for a minute in the sunshine to finding finding the right word for a bit of work we’ve been fussing over—we can grab the present by the scuff of the neck and smile—knowing no matter how diminished we might be by disease or horrible circumstance, we are not finished, not by a long shot. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. And that is worth celebrating.

As the great country and western song says, “I may be used, baby, but I ain’t used up.” Tennyson’s “Ulysses” says it a tad more elegantly:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

That which we are, we are—so much more than that cruel loss we suffered, so much more than that undeserved blood clot. We are parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, citizens, creators, or carpenters with something yet to do and give. There are lonely people out there who need our comfort. There are young folks who need our drop of wisdom. There are babies that are crying to be changed and dogs to be taken for their walks. Write a letter of gratitude to an old teacher or write a letter of complaint to an errant politician. Realize that there will always be another season of The Bachelor that you can watch and be judged for it by people of good taste. Rejoice that the day is not yet done and marvelous, unique you is here to use every drop of it.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

(Romans 5:1-11)

So amen to that.

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3 years ago

I am a Big Fan. Thank you for your words.

MB Hunt
3 years ago

Thank you!

Cherry Moore
3 years ago

I came across this quote about joy recently: “Joy is an act of spiritual resistance.” Unfortunately this was not attributed to anyone.
For a couple of years I would go to the mall at Christmas carrying nothing and just walk around smiling. I didn’t have the words for what I was doing then but now I realize I was practicing an act of spiritual resistance.
That’s what you are doing. Keep up the good work and on days when you are having trouble doing so be gentle on yourself.

3 years ago
Reply to  Cherry Moore

Love it! What a great idea!!!

Elizabeth Atkinson
3 years ago

Wonderful words I really needed to hear today. Thank you x

Karen Nast-Kolb
3 years ago

Kate, I love your words. I love your voice. Thank-you!

3 years ago

Cherry, We’re you perhaps fighting depression? Do you have other encouragement?

Deborah Michael
3 years ago

Thank you so much for such an amazing and comforting message. Just what I needed. God Bless

3 years ago

Kate thank you for these words. I too write to encourage women when life’s a big, hot, painful, mess, and I’m sharing this with them this week. xx

Marilyn Zwicker
3 years ago

So many times
Have I come to myself
And like the phoenix
Risen from the ashes
Of my self-made despair
Glimpsing joy

Mary Joyce Carlson
3 years ago

To Marilyn Zwicker:
Incandescent poetry.
Thank you.

Laura Spink
3 years ago

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Kate!💜✝️💜

3 years ago

Beautiful as always Kate.
God bless you and your family.

3 years ago

I needed this today. Thank you.

3 years ago

I really enjoy hearing you read your own work. 🙂

3 years ago

Beautiful, Kate! So needed today. I lost my mom 6 weeks ago and I’ve been absolutely flat over the past week, perhaps delayed mourning? She was the best Mom and I celebrate her and the fact that she’s in heaven, I so feel the space she’s left behind.
I got your post this morning and sent it on to friends, I love your thoughts and the way you put things…… I knew that they would, as well.
Well, just now read your post, thank you!
May God bless you, He certainly uses you! Prayers and love.

3 years ago

Yes! From the moment my sweet husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, through the horrible five months of his remaining life on this earth, and in all the years since, I have been reassured by the joy I have felt, mostly joy inspired by the myriad kindnesses and support of our friends and family. I was dumbfounded by their rallying around us, out-of-towners dropping everything to spend a week at my house running my life so I didn’t have to. Though I was in deep despair, there was joy and wonder also.

Leslie Tunstall
3 years ago

everything hurts. My crippled left leg. My damaged right toes. My left shoulder blade. My eyes. So sick
From chemo which was last week already. So tired.
And yet.. a breathtaking sunset. The exquisite softness of the fur in my dogs scruff. An oratorio I’ve never heard before. A toddler on a tricycle running crazy circles of happiness in the cul de sac. News of a baptism of a friends baby. A delicious dinner. A soft warm bed with soft pillows.

3 years ago

Thanks so much for the quotes. Been following your writings for a while. This topic of JOY reminded of a quote:
” Compairson is the thief of joy. ”
Teddy Roosevelt

3 years ago

I follow all of your writing and find your perspectives refreshingly helpful. The worldly journey is bizarre. I think the goal is to maintain the faith and exit with grace. I recently had the insight that it is essential to experience joy in the midst of sorrow. I believe it has to be actively cultivated. I often look at my dog’s antics to get an immediate hit of joy. A cup of coffee in the sunshine does it as well. I have come to understand that these experiences are intrinsically joyful rather than dependant on my life circumstance. So, seek… Read more »

The Rev. Dr. John Day
3 years ago

Thank you Kate. I seem to be at a place in my life I describe as melancholy. I feel each hurt and loss more deeply and they stay with me longer. Your writing touches me in a very deep place, stays with me and fuels a period on introspection. Yours is a very deep, profound spirituality that provides an antidote to the happy, crappy that passes for spirituality in so many places. I love your work.

The Rev. Dr. John Day
3 years ago

Thank you Kate. I seem to be at a place in my life I describe as melancholy. I feel each hurt and loss more deeply and they stay with me longer. Your writing touches me in a very deep place, stays with me and fuels a period on introspection. Yours is a very deep, profound spirituality that provides an antidote to the happy, crappy that passes for spirituality in so many places. I love your work.

3 years ago

My son Connor recently passed away. He fought so hard against difficult odds. His cancer just wouldn’t stop despite the many trips to Winston Salem, Cincinnati and so many chemos radiation. Even two clinical trials couldn’t stop it. It was so angry and it took him in the end. However, it didn’t beat him. He was so strong and courageous. He never let it stop him from all he wanted to do. He was just 18 but accomplished more and touched more people than I in my long life. Your podcasts and especially these last two weeks of blogs have… Read more »

3 years ago

Your voice is so powerful, Kate! One can hear the hope and resolve in it. Such a reminder that there’s so much to be grateful for even when we are experiencing hard times. And that the love of God is always available to us when we seek His face. Thank you, beautiful person!

3 years ago

The two quotes mentioned are favorites of mine as I have always loved Waylon Jennings
and Tennyson. Thanks for the reminder of their wisdom as relates to your insight into this topic. Blessings to you.

Sally Carr
3 years ago

Thank you……I read your posts in a tiny hamlet in Devon England and your words… from so many miles and time zones away…bring me comfort, hope and reasons to count my blessings. God bless you…..take care x

Katherine Pickard
3 years ago

A difficult marriage (and now lengthy divorce process) have left me emotionally exhausted and numb. Some days the challenges feel that they will overtake me.
And then…
There are small victories with my kids (I usually say “This moment is sponsored by the Holy Spirit”…lol) or my big kitty Monkey crawls under the covers and nests against me. I read a good book or visit with one of my “people”.
There IS joy and peace in the midst of despair. Kate, thank you for reminding me to pay attention to it and be grateful.

3 years ago

Thank you, dear Kate. I come to your story out of an 18 year cancer journey with my wife Barbara, then losing her (heaven’s gain!) in 2010. Your story touches places hereto for unreached in me, and I thank you.
And thank you for the bachelor confession in this post.

3 years ago

Kate, I read your post but also felt the need—the very real need—of hearing your voice, more of a connection to you and your faith across the miles. So thank you for both the written and the oral. I now intend to be mindful of joy, bless you for the reminder.

Nancy T Beane
23 days ago

Kate, I’m a huge fan and chair of the Theological Horizons (TH) Board of Directors. I got to meet you right before you spoke to all of us in Charlottesville. Your lecture last spring, the medical hour you all did the next day (Taison Bell is on our Board now), your books, and your ongoing work are inspiring to all of us, and we are so appreciative. Right now, your words are a tremendous help to precious Elizabeth Alexander in Raleigh who is going through Stage Four Colon Cancer and is a cousin to Christy Yates who works at TH.… Read more »

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