Rejoice: a verb meaning ‘to feel or show that you are very happy about something’
When I was a little girl, the word ‘rejoice’ was not a part of my regular vernacular. In fact, the only place I remember hearing it was at Christmas time. Written on elegant cards, sung in songs and scrolled on seasonal décor, there was that word. Not raised in a practicing Christian home, I came to associate rejoicing with the holidays, with praying people, with church, with Jesus. A Jesus I hadn’t yet met.
Flashed forward a few decades and now a beloved daughter of the King, I use that word a lot more frequently than I did growing up. I still see it in abundance at Christmas time, delivering praises to the only One who is worthy of rejoicing in. But it falls out of my mouth at other times too. When I look on my daughters with wonder and awe. When a new baby is born. When I see souls being saved and reborn. I sing it in songs throughout the year, not just during the holidays. Out it pops, as easily as ‘the’, ‘thanks’ and ‘quit bugging your sister’.
Recently I came across a verse that discusses the call for us to rejoice. Philippians 4:4 doesn’t mince words: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ Always. I’ll say it again. The act of rejoicing is a verb, so we’re required to engage in order to perform the action. It takes our emotional investment, our involvement to fulfill rejoicing. If we sit by passively as spectators, rejoicing will never happen. God asks for our participation because it tethers our heart to His, bonding us to Him in an intimate way that lasts through trial and triumph, laughter and tears. Much like the husband who loves his wife through a devastating illness, praising God always, even in the midst of storms, deepens the foundations of the relationship.
But rejoicing is hard. The lies in our heads long to for us to believe that joy doesn’t follow sorrow, that we are victims, that our current circumstances are forevermore, that there’s no reason left to feel joyous. It’s no wonder that the Apostle Paul included in his writings to the people of Phillipi a stress on his words- I will say it again: Rejoice! A mortal man himself, Paul knew the fickle, weary nature of humankind. Prone to wander and easily distracted, we can step off track if we lack the focus and determination it takes to rejoice in an exasperated world. We have to decide to rejoice, to commit to it, to live in it.
Bathed in the humid heat of last summer, I walked through the devastation of having my daughters taken from their home and placed in foster care. It took 76 days for them to be returned to us, all accusations unfounded. As I moved through the motions of daily life, if for no reason other than sweet distraction, I longed for the simple, innocent days of my youth. The days when a future stretched out before me, free of court dates and supervised visits and children traumatized by the same system meant to protect them. Lie after lie tormented us, spewed forth from the mouth of the enemy, who ran hard after killing, stealing and destroying. But I knew what I knew what I knew. And it was this: that even when you walk through a valley where death is your shadow, GOD is near the brokenhearted. I gripped onto my Deliverer so hard that my knuckles turned white, and He held me close, washing over me with songs of adoration and I sang back. Night after night, I dreamed of a darkened room when He and I sat alone, me at His feet, weeping in despair, while He stroked my hair and whispered all the ways He loved me. With the world whirling all around me, I made a decision. I would rejoice in my Lord, now and always. Even if things got worse (and they did). Even if they never got better. Even if I had to make the same decision moment by moment, breath by breath, until it was the final decision I was privileged to make. I would choose Him. Always.
I didn’t know about rejoicing as a little girl. But as I grew up, first in years and then in stature to the fullness of Christ, I learned about the rejoicing that happens in the midst of tribulation. And I’m so glad I did.