Summary: It seems unreal that pain could be turned into joy. Yet pain is the very stuff of joy. It will come, not instantaneously, but completely. The risen Christ proves this, and can transform our disappointments, disillusionments, and shame into joy.
“You will have pain, but y our pain will turn into joy.” That brings back memories of the doctor’s office and that giant needle moving ever closer. “This will hurt a little bit.” A little bit! When you are a year old, it hurts a lot, and there is no joy in it. No, I do not remember being one year old. But I do remember going with my one-year-old granddaughter to get her shots. I said to her what is always said: “This will hurt a little bit, but it will all be over soon.” I didn’t believe it when I said it, and neither did my squalling granddaughter.
“You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” What on earth can Jesus mean by this? And can it be true? We’ve all experienced pain of one sort or another. Can we honestly say that our pain turned into joy?
As a teenage boy one day I tried to climb a tall chain link fence to take a short cut to where I had parked my bicycle. There was a jagged row of barbed wire along the top. Wouldn’t you know it? My jeans snagged that stuff. Before the fall was finished, I had torn my jeans up past the knee, I had taken a big piece of flesh out of my leg, and I had landed on my bicycle and bent its front wheel. I remember that pain, and not just the pain of the wound. I remember the pain of reporting a torn pair of jeans to a father whose finances did not allow for extra clothes. I remember the pain of admitting to my mother that the blood spattered all over the bathroom was mine. I remember the pain of having to tell my boss at the pharmacy that his delivery boy could not work until his leg healed and his bike wheel got straightened out. And, oh yes, I remember too the pain of not getting paid; let me tell you, 55 cents an hour, that mounts up! I remember all that pain; I do not really remember that it turned into joy.
“You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” We’ve all experienced pain of one sort or another. Can we honestly say that our pain turned into joy? What can Jesus mean by that?
What about the pain of disappointment? You worked for that job, you deserved that promotion; you expected that new assignment. But it went to somebody else, and did you feel joy? No, you felt devalued and depreciated. Where was the joy in that?
What about the pain of disillusionment? Someone you trusted betrayed you. Someone close to you turned out not to be your friend. Someone went against all your values and did something so egregiously awful that to this day it pains you. It hurts even to call that person’s name. The pain of disillusionment – where was the joy in that?
And what about the pain of separation? Is there any pain worse than the pain of separation from those you love? My wife and her family left England in 1952 to come to the United States. Margaret’s father had been offered a professorship at the Baptist Seminary in Louisville. Now those were the days before transatlantic flights that you could just step on whenever you felt like it, and well before the days of affordable travel. So to move a family from England to America in the ‘50’s meant that they were leaving everyone behind, with little chance for reunion. As the train left the platform to take them all to Southampton for sailing, Margaret looked back to see her grandfather waving farewell, and saw that the old man’s eyes were full of tears. He later wrote them to say that he knew that never again would he see his grandchildren. I can tell you, as a grandfather, that would be truly, deeply painful. The pain of separation: and I ask, again, where is the joy in that? How will that pain be turned into joy?
And that is to say nothing of the ultimate separation, when that old enemy, death, sneaks in and snatches those we love. I have officiated at something over two hundred funerals in my time, and I have yet to have anybody say very much about feeling joy. Sometimes they express acceptance, but hardly joy. That ultimate separation, that deepest pain – can even that be turned into joy?
“You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” Is this so much pious prattle? Is this one of those empty phrases we toss about, sort of like whistling in the dark? Is this real? Or is this standard mythology, something we all say but do not believe and do not experience? “You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.” I want to demand, “Prove it, Jesus! Prove what You say.”