She stumbled towards me, intoxicated and slurring words. Her small delicate frame was unsteady and she drifted to one side as if a weight was dragging her slowly towards the ground. I paused, ready to catch her from a fall, but she straightened and found her feet. She leaned in, buried herself in my shoulder and kissed my neck. Shelly is one of many ladies I’ve met at Because Justice Matters and I sensed this was her most meaningful human connection for a long time. I could feel the sadness inch into my heart.

Riding the train home I was carrying the ache for Shelly like the heaviness of my own oversized purse. I wonder where she, and many other women like her, will spend the holidays, perhaps on a cold cement sidewalk without family or friends. The night was chilly and as I walked from the train to my home I passed dazzling Christmas lights, pretty holiday wreathes and dressed-up trees in almost every window. The melancholy in my heart for Shelly was eased by the anticipation for my favorite season. Surrounded by the festive spirit I felt joy begin to swell. At my front door I could hear my children playing and I knew my husband had prepared dinner. As I slid the key into the lock a tension gripped me.  The force of lament and joy were both trying to seize my heart at the exact same moment. My anguish and sorrow for Shelly was equally matched by the expectancy and hope right in front of me, and I was trapped with pressure on either side. What deserves my allegiance? What is more Christ-like? Can I live in this tension with authenticity? 

This week I taught a sermon on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary’s ability to straddle the tension between lament and joy gives us hope that we can experience the fullness of life’s emotions without being crushed. On one hand she touched suffering - her own and that of Israel - but with the other she touched hope and joy with the arrival of baby Jesus, the Messiah. When that kind of hope grows within us it presses up against everything that is normal. As it expands it pushes up against the darkness and brings light to the places that feel despairing. Though at times the struggle is agonizing, it is possible for joy and lament to co-exist in our lives, if we allow Jesus to enter into the tension with us.

Here are 3 simple steps to invite Christ into our tension:

1.     Focus on God’s character – Our focus on Christ centers us between joy and lament. Just like Mary we can fix our attention on Him and who He is. Read scripture, sing a worship song, light a candle – find a way to meditate on His goodness today.

2.     Always lean into hope – As humans we are inclined to be easily discouraged. Lament exerts some big muscles, so be intentional to lean into hope. Make a choice to enter into hope, even when despair is a very real experience in that moment. If it helps, do a physical act. Stand up, pretend to hold lament in one hand and joy in the other, acknowledge both are real, but then lean your body towards hope and joy. Pray out loud as you lean, inviting God to re-position your heart towards expectancy.

3.     Toss out rational thinking that limits what God can do – God owns the realm of the impossible. He operates outside our logic and capacity. Sometimes the biggest challenge to faith is rational thinking, so guard your mind against all the “realistic” reasons why your circumstances will never change. Pain and struggle are real, but we hinder Christ’s comfort in the tension if we decide to only embrace lament. We need balance. Resist hopeless thinking so hope can invade. Make a space and God will fill it.