Is it okay to feel joy in a world of misery? It’s necessary.

October 27, 2023 | Life Lines

During these tumultuous and terrible times in our world, it can be easy to spiral down into the rabbit hole of despair, thinking we have no right to be happy, no right to feel peaceful when so many others are suffering from any number of tragic circumstances: terrorism, hunger, ongoing war, oppression, racism. The list goes on and on.

One recent day, as I walked my rescue pup, Jake, under a clear blue autumn sky with colors bursting from the trees around me, I felt a swell of joy rise up in my chest, and immediately I said to myself, “I shouldn’t be happy.” Because how could I be happy when I was watching the terror attacks and larger-scale war unfolding in Israel and Gaza.

But in doing that — in refusing to feel joy and hope in the face of a broken world — what happened instead was that fear and anger rushed in to fill the void. Not just fear and anger associated with the larger world and those who rain suffering down on innocent families and concert goers and children indiscriminately, but fear and anger over even the little things in my own life, the “first-world problems” we so often joke about. Choosing not to feel joy in the moment because of suffering somewhere else does not ease the suffering of others, it only adds to the suffering in my little slice of the world, and that doesn’t help anyone.

“Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other — that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister. If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbor, do you think we would still need tanks and generals?”, St. Teresa of Calcutta once famously said. “Peace and war begin at home. If we truly want peace in the world, let us begin by loving one another in our own families. If we want to spread joy, we need for every family to have joy.”

And sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do, isn’t it? It’s easy to pray for peace and send love to those who are suffering half a world away, those whom we will never meet in person. It’s much harder to want those things for the people we know intimately who have hurt us — the neighbor who mistreats us, the friend or loved one who betrays us. We sometimes even turn that hatred and hardness of heart in on ourselves when we make mistakes or disappoint those we love. When we do that, we put our own little piece of “violence” out into the world, and everyone else is a little worse off. Just as love ripples outward from us, so does hate or despair, if that is what we choose.

So where to begin? How can we peaceful and joyful in the face of the horrific things we see unfolding in our fragile world around the globe? Only through Jesus Christ, who showed us with his own body what it means to love and hope in the spite of hatred and injustice, who told us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

As you move through the remainder of this beautiful autumn season, take the time to pause, breathe deep, and revel in the beauty and wonder that is yours in the moment. Feel the peace that can reside in you when you let go of the fear; feel the joy that bubbles up when you allow yourself to trust God’s words rather than trusting the rage you see on your screens.

Peace is an inside job. Joy is not happiness as the world knows it but a contentment that rests in God. Both of those things are your birthright, no matter what the world tries to tell you.


Related Posts

Welcoming the Wild Goose

Welcoming the Wild Goose

When I first saw the wild geese standing outside the window of the conference room where I was leading a retreat at beautiful Bon Secours Retreat Center in ...
God’s path of totality

God’s path of totality

Think about the lead-up to the recent solar eclipse. For months there was non-stop coverage as scientists tracked the path of totality, giving us the ...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This