I couldn’t believe this was actually happening! My boyfriend and I were practically floating back to our car in downtown Seattle after leaving an appointment with the jewelers on a brisk January evening. We had just chosen the stone that would be used in my custom engagement ring, and we were bursting with joy, excitement, anticipation, and some really big love. There was laughing, hand holding, mile-a-minute chatter, and sweet kisses. This night could not get any better.
And then . . .
Then, my phone rang. It was my best friend calling. I was quick to answer, eager to tell her the good news of our engagement ring progress. But my “Hey!” wasn’t met with enthusiasm. There would be no talk about my ring.
“It’s my dad,” she said slowly, as if she were breaking the news to us both. “He’s sick.” Her voice was somber and shaky. “I’ll be right there,” I responded.
When I got there, she was on the phone with her parents, learning more about the diagnosis. I sat on the floor outside of her bedroom door, praying for the news to be hopeful. When the conversation ended, we sat together in a grief-laden silence before aching, crying, and planning her next steps.
That night is one I will not soon forget—it held the joyous occasion of my boyfriend and I finalizing the ring that would mark our forthcoming engagement. And it held the horror of my best friend learning of her dad’s fight for life. In a matter of hours, I experienced my heart swell with joy and my heart swell with grief.
One month later, I picked her up at the airport. She had been with her family for almost two weeks. During that time, her father had survived a critical surgery and was miraculously on the road to recovery. As well, my boyfriend had proposed and we were on the wild road to marriage.
It was late at night when she returned to Seattle, and we were both exhausted from the emotional marathon of the week. Once home from the airport, we toasted one another with cold water—it was all we had; even obtaining champagne felt like too much work. So we raised our water glasses to life—to living it, holding on to it, and celebrating it.
This is life’s dance. Grief and joy—they’re so intertwined. The ground of the Earth is our dance floor and we’re waltzing always—towards grief or joy, into hope or fear. Sometimes, in a wild spin move, we might actually catch both grief and joy in nearly the same breath. We dance between and within the range of human emotions. Because we matter to each other, I may step into your grief – or you, into my joy – and we feel it with one another.
To be with my friend that night did not take away from the joy I felt about my engagement ring-in-the-making. Happiness and hardship do not have to be mutually exclusive. My friend’s grief did not cancel out my gratitude, but it did alter the focus of my attention for that evening. The celebration of my engagement did not lose out because of that; it is, I believe, always worth it to be with the people you love in the moments when they are afraid.
This is not to say I’ve danced between grief and joy perfectly. I’m merely learning as I go, but you cannot learn the dance if you don’t try the steps. We’ll fail and falter and maybe even fall, but then we get to try again. There is no shortage of grief or joy in our lives. Have you ever gone through a breakup around the same time when your friend gets married? Suffered a miscarriage when your sister gives birth? Lost your job as your friend gets promoted? It’s a wild, wild dance.
In this holiday season, when we sing, “Joy to the World” in a grief-stricken and broken world, I wonder how we can hold both the grief and the joy. It is possible—it has to be—because both are real and true and important. Christ has come and He is coming again, and that is to be deeply celebrated. And, in the meantime, wildfires are raging, planes are crashing, hate crimes are happening, entire people groups are being threatened, and Jesus isn’t back yet. Part of the dance is learning how to honor the grief and joy in a way that validates your experience and your hurting friend’s experience.
We all need hope and joy, but we also need other’s presence, solidarity, and empathy. Thank the good Lord, He made our souls big enough to hold the complexities of simultaneous grief and joy. But this way of dancing, oh my sweet stars, it is not for the faint of heart.
This Christmas season, may we be bearers of hope. May we be people who celebrate the goodness and sit in the grief, even if all of the rejoicing and lament happens within the very same day. May we sing and bring Joy to the World, and may we remain in support and prayer of our loved ones facing harsh realities of divorce, illness, or unemployment during this holiday season.
I think life’s dance was meant to move us into holy grief and celebration, where we can join and be joined in the highs and lows we each face. All of our steps cannot be only into joy; the dance is made complete when we allow ourselves to fully experience each step in the sequence of our lives.
Peace to you, good people. See you on the dance floor.