She said it so nonchalantly. “Oh, you know, misery.” That’s what she wanted me to pray about. Misery. Her misery. There was a touch of humor in her words, and she gave me a wry smile. But I could tell she was dead serious.
She didn't want to talk specifics, so I launched into a prayer and, regrettably, botched it at the end. On the whole it was fine, but then I said something about God granting her a "spirit of gratitude." While gratitude is a perfectly wonderful spiritual practice - and often helpful when we're feeling down - I’m not there to offer spiritual solutions. Especially premature, unsolicited ones and especially as a part of a prayer. Fortunately, she didn’t seem too bothered by it because she was back the next week.
Nevertheless, I’ve been wondering what was behind my rookie mistake. We all know what it's like to be miserable. But when does misery start to feel commonplace? Part of daily life, even. I don’t know, I haven’t been there, and maybe that’s why I wanted to skip to gratitude. Joy would have been a better place to go.
Henri Nouwen, a contemporary Christian theologian, writes that joy is "the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved [by God] and that nothing -- sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death -- can take that love away." Sometimes it’s those very difficult and painful things that allow us to realize our joy. Sometimes joy is the child of sorrow; that I know well. It’s why Paul can say he’s “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
So can joy coexist with misery? I believe it can because joy is a gift God has placed inside each one of us. It is waiting to be found so that we can claim the Biblical promise for all circumstances: "The joy of the Lord is my strength." (Nehemiah 8:10).