Joy and Sorrow Can Exist Together

The title of this blog is essentially what we all live on a daily basis, right?

In this season of joy and gratitude for the Resurrection of Jesus after His Passion and death for our sake, we see the green (at least here in Texas!).  The weather starts to change to welcome the spring, the ads arrive on our social media welcoming the summer season’s clothing trends. We begin to see people venturing outdoors again as we dig out from the darkness of winter. At Mass every Sunday, we receive an extra sprinkling of holy water as we are reminded of the renewal of the Easter season. The Gloria is being sung again, and we are allowed to say the word ”alleluia!”

However, life continues as it has for us each day. The struggles we have in managing a household, finances, family, relationships, and the known mortality of our bodies do not vanish with the arrival of Easter. My body usually expands just a bit from all of the sweets consumed around the holiday celebrations, or the food gifts that we receive as nurses working in the hospital.

I see countless times through the course of a day, the coexistence of sorrow and joy. Parents are excited at the birth of their child, and at the same time they grieve the critical illness and the altered life course that child now has. They see lines and tubes and strange machines hooked up to their baby, who they cannot hold. Mothers navigate how to bond with a newborn under the scariest of circumstances, when they do not know if, or how long, their little new life will survive on this earth. They pump their “liquid gold” breast milk in hopes that within a few days or weeks, the baby will be able to be fed that milk through a tube going from their nose to their stomach.

We see cases of neglect and abuse, children born addicted to recreational drugs to mothers who did not know they were pregnant. We see foster and adoptive parents come embrace the children so in need of love. We witness innovative surgical procedures which have never been done before, little lives saved who would have died even just a few short years ago. But we do not know the long-term consequences or complications of these new procedures. We have to watch and wait.

Families of chronically hospitalized and/or medically compromised children sacrifice immensely for the life they now live. Financial hardship is almost guaranteed as the added expenses of specialized care, equipment, and education are added to the budget. Immigrants try to find hourly jobs to sustain their families, which live in a constant state of transit, while attempting to stay present in the hospital with a sick child. They express great appreciation for the ways their child is being cared for and the advancements in surgery and medicine which are keeping their baby alive. At the same time, they tearfully relate the stresses of managing an entire family at home, the psychological suffering their other children endure with divided attention, the uncertainty of their living situation and the legalities of living in a foreign country with little to no assets.

The most concrete example of joy and sorrow together was demonstrated to me just a few weeks ago. I have had the honor of being present for two separate families as they learned that their child, with a heart so sick it could not be repaired, was matched with a donor heart and would receive a transplant. They rejoiced and cried and thanked the staff, processing that their child was being given a new chance at life. At the same time, they became somber and reflected the knowledge that another child was dying and that a family had chosen to donate organs so someone else’s baby could live.

Our daily life has this as well. We hear of and participate in new life, new relationships, celebrate marriages and the little victories our children accomplish at school. We hear of school shootings and violence and lost loved ones, new cancer or other devastating diagnoses. We are laid off from our jobs or learn of a broken marriage, a troubled child or friend who has fallen into the cycle of self-harm. We relish and take solace in the mercy that we have been extended, and the chances to reconcile with God and our friends. We grieve the temporariness of this world and of our lives as changes come.

Two things can exist at the same time. “There is immense beauty.” “There is immense suffering.” These two things can both be true.

bridget holtz

Over the winter, I lost a good friend. At her wake, a mutual friend of ours shared a memory of a professor they both had in Rome. The professor, advising students on how to study during their course on the Trinity, told them that they must not insert the words “because,” “and,” or “therefore” when trying to grasp truth. Two things can exist at the same time. “There is immense beauty.” “There is immense suffering.” These two things can both be true. Attempting to join them can take us into heresy. For example, “There is beauty because there is suffering.” “There is suffering, therefore there is intense beauty.” This is where we can get into trouble: trying to think too much and relate these truths. It is part of the mystery of our faith: accepting the coexistence of these seemingly contradicting truths.

“God is Love.” “We are dust and to dust we shall return.” “Though my flesh shall waste away, with my eyes I will see God.” There are countless examples we have read, and likely have seen during the course of our lives. We cometo grips with our own mortality, the temporariness of this world, the pain and suffering we endure this side of eternity, and yet the closeness and sacredness of death’s proximity to life.

So many reasons to rejoice, and yet so many reasons to grieve. I am grateful that this world is not our permanent home, and that in the midst of a coexisting paradox, with life and death or small versions of it spread before us each day, we can choose to see our eternal destiny and walk toward it. We can choose to drown ourselves in sorrow and focus on the misery that the darkness will most definitely provide, or we can choose to expectantly hope in the words of St. Peter in one of my all time favorite scriptures:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9
About Author

Bridget is a deep-thinking compassionate caregiver with a love for color, culture, travel, kindness and the encouraging word. Called to seek out and serve the lost, vulnerable, broken and oppressed. A pediatric nurse, she has worked in numerous inpatient and outpatient settings, and with the underserved domestically and internationally. She carries a particular call to stand with the impoverished, whether they be affected materially, emotionally, physically or spiritually. She currently lives in Austin, TX with her dog Nigel.

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