Hopeless Joy

In case you somehow missed it, JUSTembrace officially launched with a large celebration on October 1st.  We celebrated with nearly 200 of our friends and family and set our mission in action to provide training, events and hospitality in order to remove social barriers that marginalize and divide communities.  It was a fabulous celebration that clearly communicated our mission and passion.

Two days later as I rode my bike to meet my family for dinner, I passed a pathetic looking homeless man at a busy intersection.  He was severely bent over, shuffeling so slow that he only made it halfway across the street during the green light.  He carried two plastic bags of items, his clothes were filthy and torn to shreds.  His silver hair hung in strings across his face.  I searched for his eyes: I wanted to greet him as he passed.  I was met with one eye along side an empty socket.  Somehow, that sight was the tipping point for me.  I did greet him, but my heart was hopeless.

Hopeless?  Hadn’t we just thrown a fabulous celebration that accomplished our goal of bringing people together that society, fear and ignornace has kept apart?  Hadn’t I given him some dignity by greeting him in the street?  Hadn’t I done what I was supposed to do by receiving this man, and not ignoring his presence although it was painful to encounter?

Still, I was hopeless.  This man was walking a few miles from my house and he represented to me the millions of people I will never be able to have to my house for a family meal.  He represented the feet I will never have the honor of soaking and massaging and placing fresh socks on.  He represented the millions of suffering and lonely people in the world that I simply cannot hold in my arms.

Hopeless.

As I rode on, I desperately looked for something in my heart to help deal with this hopelessness.  I felt so weak and powerless.  “The joy of the Lord is your strength!”  What?  I knew I had sung a song about that since I was a little child, but what on earth did that mean?  And where did it come from?  I’m not big on Bible-verse solutions, so I pulled out my phone (yes, I was still biking…) and looked it up!  I had no idea that little kid song was written from a situation in the book of Nehemiah!

As I read the story in Nehemiah chapter 8, I realized that God had truly reminded me of this truth not as some silly Bible verse band-aid – but because of it’s tremendous hopefulness.

You see, in Nehemiah 8, the prophet Ezra had just read the Scriptures to the people of God.  It says that the people understood what was being read to them and they were weeping. They were mourning.  They had been given the honor of knowing God’s heart and it had broken theirs.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Knowing God and living in obedience to Him is not all sunshine and butterflies.  It wrecks us.  It breaks our hearts.  Sometimes it is difficult to breath.  Sometimes it is hard to get out of bed.  Yes, there is tremendous hope in our God and in His ultimate victory, but we are not delivered from the suffering and injustice of earth.

This little glimpse into the story of the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra eased my hopelessness and reminded me that there is strength in rejoicing in my God although I am aware of the suffering and injustice around me.

“This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”