It was June 2021 and God worked a big miracle in my life. I was finally healing from a specific mental illness that had created severe wounds, both in my personal and spiritual life for years. I could taste God’s grace and freedom after what felt like eternity. I was finally happy. This happiness however was short-lived as my family and I unexpectedly contracted Covid. The recovery was slow, especially for my Nana (grandmother). Nana had raised me since I was a little baby but now, right before her baby’s eyes, it felt like her life was slowly being sucked out of her weak and frail body.
She couldn’t speak, move or do any of her routine tasks. Watching her completely bedridden, all I could do was pray and hope to return to our happier times. Nana is someone I am especially close to as she practically raised me up after my mother passed away. She is both my mother and father and I knew that losing her would be the end of me.
I watched Nana’s zest for life deteriorate before me. Barely surviving on soups and porridge, we were hoping she’d be there to celebrate her 101st birthday in July 2021. Just before her birthday, the priest came home to administer her last rites. But, Nana made it. She sat for her birthday and we celebrated the Holy Eucharist at home, as we would do every year since her 91st birthday.
Six months on and Nana is still bedridden. She barely speaks. She hardly moves. But in these moments, I’ve discovered the sheer joy found in simple things – like running to her bedside to tell her how much I love her. Like slipping my fingers through her soft hair. Like looking attentively in her eyes like she was the only one in the universe for me. Like serving her, like she served me. Like loving her, like she loved me.
What a strange paradox the Christian faith offers us. Death begins with Life.
The least make it to the top. And joy is found at the centre of suffering. It is no wonder why JOY ended up being my word for 2022. JOY – when everything seemed lifeless. JOY when everyday already looked so joyless.
The path to truly discovering Joy this year still unfolds but God has given me a great companion to walk alongside it. Henri Nouwen – yes the great Henri Nouwen, the pious priest, who left our earthly home nearly 23 years ago, this pious friend who God placed to redirect my heart and chase the Giver of all Joy: Jesus.
Henri Nouwen’s book ‘Here and Now’ shone like a bright light in this dark alley. I picked up and read the book and after I put it down, I felt a deep sense of peace. The book spoke about loving God in the present moment. It challenged me to look back at my life, a life wrecked with countless doctor visits and tables spewed with medicines. And he taught me to fix my mind on my present moment, to see God at work even now, to see God sow the seed, to see His Spirit water it, to discover yet again my identity as a daughter that no circumstance can take away.
Interestingly, Nouwen taught at Harvard before leaving everything to join the L’Arche Daybreak community of mentally disabled people in Ontario, Canada. One person in particular, Adam, brought Nouwen all the joy he hoped for. Adam was mentally handicapped and couldn’t do any tasks independently. So, Nouwen would bathe him, clothe him, feed him, clean him and take him for walks in the wheelchair. Nouwen found lasting peace tending to Adam and credits Adam for all he learned in the process.
I looked back at my situation with Nana through this lens. She was also immobile and had no strength to do anything. I had to help bathe her, dress her and even feed her. Yet, the tasks which drained me down emotionally and physically, soon became what I could offer up to God. I found deep joy in serving my Nana and I encountered joy in ways I never could without it.
Choosing Joy over Happiness
We often tend to confuse happiness with joy and find it difficult to fully understand the gospel message on it.
In his book, ‘Bread for the Journey’ Henri Nouwen beautifully writes, “Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer with.”
It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet, being with a person in pain, offering our presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty….. such experiences catalyse deep joy. They are vehicles for change. They are antidotes to a self seeking world desperately needing freedom. Not happiness, but joy, this elusive reality that does not change in our brokenness. This weapon that combats the enemy as it gives us power in our own woundedness to share human suffering.
Henri Nouwen says, joy and sorrow are not separate from each other. This doesn’t mean being oblivious to sadness or pain or anguish, it simply means we recognize that even in the darkest moments, joy is possible and attainable. It means in moments where all doors close, there is still a way forward.
Choosing this joy, learning to accept my Nana’s suffering took time. It took a sense of dying. A sense of releasing pride, selfishness and vanity. And it enabled confidence, that Nana will soon reach her heavenly home and dine at the Eternal banquet, in complete union with God, where there is nothing but lasting joy.
Friend, I don’t know where you are at right now? Where you are juggling between happiness and joy? Whether you are drained out with present suffering and see no reason to rejoice. Perhaps you wonder where God is and if He even cares. There are times I still fall into the trap of complaining about my circumstances. I wonder if God ever loved me and if he wants to see my Nana suffer and me as I watch her.
Take heart! He cares. You can see His faithfulness through pages of the Bible. When in the most jarring situations, people who trusted the Joy-giver found joy. Choosing Joy over suffering is a gift. It truly is. What a glorious opportunity to discover Jesus’ suffering!
I soon realized that problems in my life weren’t because Jesus loved me less but because He loved me so much that He was willing to share His cross with me.
The suffering in my Nana’s eyes reflected the eyes of Christ, offering Himself – the Unblemished Lamb, as an atonement for our sins. Everyday, as I help clean and take care of Nana, I can see the joy of Christ, awakening in me a new sense of freedom to accept pain and suffering and to smile for I know Christ won the battle for me. This is the solid ground on which I stand.
I pray you find this same Joy as you choose it each day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alinka Dias hails from Mumbai, India. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media and Journalism and loves pouring her heart out through poetry. She enjoys baking, especially if it means treating herself to a batch of chocolate brownies. Standing just under 5 feet and being the youngest of all her cousins, Alinka relates closely with the ‘Little Flower’ aka St Therese de Lisieux, who inspires her to pursue God in her own ‘little’ ways. Connect with her on Instagram @poetic.praise