CHAMPION OF JOY
You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little, until the clouds roll by a
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.
At long last, the big day has come and gone. Recently we helped our
oldest daughter Katherine move into her new college dorm for the very
first time. Since our return, I’ve been fielding a lot of kind
inquiries from sympathetic friends: “I’m thinking of you. How are you
doing? Are you okay? I’m praying for you.”
Such comments imply that I am struggling, hurting or even devastated.
And why not? Isn’t that the norm for parents like me? Honestly,
though, while I appreciate the concern, the biggest trouble I have is
with the questions themselves. Because my response seems anything but
“normal.” My current state doesn’t exactly fit the protocol for such
moments. So here I sit, searching for an answer that is at once both
sincere . . . and sensitive. I don’t want to be disingenuous; but then
again, I don’t want other moms to smother me with a Space Bag.
Because the truth is, I feel . . . happy. That’s right. While many
admit to the conventional “bittersweet” and others confess it’s been
awful—even agony—for me it has been wholly, almost shockingly joyful.
And there’s something almost disrespectful about that. We don’t flaunt
victory in the face of defeat—it’s downright unsportsmanlike. Even as
a very new mom I knew better than to admit Katherine was a “first-try
conception” baby to those struggling with infertility. And no matter
how much I loved being pregnant with her, and was a little sad to see
it all end, I would never dream of saying so to my friend who endured
nine months of round-the-clock morning sickness.
It is not, as the French put it, “comme il faut.” Or as we say here in
Texas, “t’ain’t fittin.’”
Is there a proper place for my happy?
At last I find both the words and the justification for my happy in a
scene from one of my favorite movies: the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming
to Dinner. The Drayton household has just received a startling
announcement from daughter Joey. The bulk of the story takes us
through the reactions of various characters as each of them comes to
terms with the unexpected news. Joey’s mother (played brilliantly by
Katharine Hepburn) is the perfect spokesperson for me when she makes
the following declaration to her husband, Matt:
“[Joey’s] always been a happy human being. She laughed out loud before
she was six months old. She was happy as a baby, happy as a little
girl, happy all through school and college. But I don’t think I’ve
ever seen her quite as happy as she is right now. And I have to be
happy for her, Matt. And I am. I feel happy for her. And proud of the
fact that we helped make her. And whatever happens now, I feel glad .
. . that Joey›s Joey.»
Under normal conditions, there would seem to be nothing exceptional
about such motherly sentiment—but these are uncommon circumstances.
The complex situation inspires all kinds of mixed emotions, and
Hepburn’s response distinguishes her from the rest of the cast. We
soon learn that not only does she feel happy; she has to fight for it.
Even when others dismiss her position as foolish and unrealistic, she
refuses to back down, going toe-to-toe with those who take a less
positive few. It is this tension between the “bitter” and the “sweet”
that drives the plot, keeping us all in suspense to find out which
will triumph in the end. Intuitively we sense that a “happy ending” is
impossible unless someone comes forward to champion joy.
Hepburn’s stirring articulation gives voice to feelings about my own
Katherine. She has always been happy—and made us even more so. When
she entered the world and the doctor announced, “It’s a girl!” I wept
with indescribable joy. From that moment on, happiness took on a name
and a face. Happiness moved into our family and lived among us. Every
major milestone has been marked by happy. We’ve been blessed with
eighteen years of happy. Why would this moment be any different? It
seems that sending her out is destined to be just as joyful as
welcoming her in.
Just as Christina did, I prepare to fight for happy—but I must pick
this battle carefully. As I said, it’s definitely not the conventional
response. So far I’m the only mother quoting Katharine Hepburn, and
I’m afraid I’ll sound foolish and naive. (Even my own inner skeptic
wonders what will happen once we say goodbye to a different
child—especially the last child.) Meanwhile, I worry about being
insensitive. Will my song of praise sound out of tune amid the chorus
of laments? What if my shouts of joy drown out another’s weeping? Can
I make room for happy without causing further unhappiness?
I find the answers to these questions by turning to God. When the
complexities of life leave me baffled and defensive, He comes forward
with perfect wisdom. When my responses refuse to conform to protocol,
I surrender to the authority of my unconventional Lord. When I am lost
inside the mysteries of the human heart, His voice helps me navigate
with sincerity and sensitivity. Most importantly, He points out that
it’s not my job to champion joy, because He has already done so. With
more clarity and eloquence than even Miss Hepburn herself, He explains
how He will put sorrow in its place to make way for joy.
First of all, He points out that there is a time for tears
(Ecclesiastes 3:4), even calling us to shed them in sync with others
when they mourn (Romans 12:15). Meanwhile, He reminds us again and
again that joy will always triumph over sorrow in the end:
Sorrow is temporary, but joy will last. (Psalm 30:5, Isaiah 35:10,
John 16:22, I Peter 1:6)
Sorrow is only a precursor to joy. (Psalm 126:5-6, John 16:20)
God has the power to transform sorrow into joy. (Psalm 30:11, Isaiah
61:3, Jeremiah 31:13)
Whenever we struggle through sorrow, he fights alongside us as the
undefeatable Champion of Joy, assuring us all the while that His happy
will always win. The real “story of love”—His love—is the sure promise
of a Happy Ending. Then the glory of His love is revealed as He makes
good on that promise. At last we can all laugh (and cry) in perfect
unison, singing together as we rejoice:
God’s redeemed . . . will be happy forever, forever free from sorrow
and grief. Isaiah 51:11
Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud,
you earth beneath. Burst into song . . . for the Lord has redeemed his
people, he displays his glory. Isaiah 44:23