It’s been nearly two years since I last heard my father-in-law’s voice.
Before lung cancer stole the best parts of him, we gave him a recordable book full of nursery rhymes and asked him to read it for the grandchild who would grow up without him. Unfortunately, something went wrong and only one page actually recorded.
Every once in awhile I pull that book out and listen to that one page. There’s comfort in remembering his voice. It’s settling.
It’s also been nearly four years since I last had a conversation with my brother. That story is a little more painful, and a lot more private, but hurts and misunderstandings have widened a gulf between us. It’s not what I want, but it is the way things are, and I’ve just had to come to grips with it.
We’ve just come off a season of great joy. We indulged in the lights and music, the nostalgia, and the comfort of familiarity during the most wonderful time of the year.
And then January settles on us like a cold, wet blanket.
Loved ones have gone, and the separation cuts deep. This is a time of year that brings great heartache for many people. So what do we do with that? How do we reconcile pain following so much joy?
Perhaps life’s most tangible quality is the side by side constant of joy and heartache. It seems that we cannot have one without the other, and I suppose that makes sense, doesn’t it?
How would we know true joy if we’d never experienced heart break?
How would be relish in the peace of a quiet morning if we’d never known the chaos of a stormy night?
We can’t have joy without pain. There can’t be rejoicing without suffering. Though polar opposites, and seemingly incompatible, the truth is we need both, because both sides of the same coin are the pillars of life.
Perhaps this is a season of heartache for you. Maybe you find yourself pulling a book off a shelf and listening to the cadence of a voice that can only be heard on a recording, and maybe the sound cuts you deep. Can I offer a suggestion?
Fall into the pain.
Just fall right into it, because it’s there in the heartache that the seeds of joy will begin to foster and grow once more. We can’t run from suffering, and we cannot hide from pain. We might as well face it head on, tears streaming down our faces. And in the release of emotion, we must also remember the good times.
Don’t get wrapped in the darkness of your suffering. Acknowledge its presence, and then let the light of joy pierce it right through.
When I hear my father-in-law’s voice, I feel a tearing in my soul because there’s a part of me that will always long to hear that voice in real life again.
But there’s also a great joy that fills me as I remember the joyful times that we had with him; the way that he made me laugh, the sound of him cooking eggs in the morning when we visited. The memories are like a balm to my wounded heart, and I can only sink into them when I’m willing to face the pain.
When I think of my brother, and I feel that ache creep into my heart, I give in to it for a few minutes. Sometimes I even let the tears fall hot and fast on my cheeks.
And then I remember that my brother is still alive, and I cling to the hope of reconciliation. Hope is a powerful thing, but one can only understand hope if she first understands despair.
And I know both emotions well.
If you find yourself struggling this post-holiday season, please know that I understand. I acknowledge that your pain and suffering are real, and they are merited. But don’t forget this one important thing:
Joy is made all the more beautiful by pain.
You are allowed to feel both emotions, because they reside so close together. And so I pray that as you walk through these cold, bleak winter months, your eyes adjust to the beauty that surrounds you. I pray that the sights and smells and sounds all swirl together with the heartache to produce something altogether lovely.
I pray that despite the suffering and the heartache, this is the most wonderful time of the year.