To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a, 4

Celebration is a stranger in the midst of deep tragedy. Our hearts long for happiness, but our spirits remain steadfastly connected to a profound grief. Some scold me and say that we’re simply not experiencing the joy of Christ. They reference scriptures like James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 1:8-9 to pointedly underscore the biblical truth that joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. They are right.

Joy is not dependent upon circumstances.

Happiness is.

And there is nothing unbiblical about happiness. In Deuteronomy, God specifically addresses newly married men and forbids the army (or public service) from conscripting them, so they may stay home one year and “be happy” with their new wife. That happiness is not a deep-seated certainty of God’s sovereign hand working in their lives in spite of perceived circumstances; but it is an elation of the spirit at the uniting of heart and body with a kindred soul.

Many of the feasts in the Old Testament were profoundly connected to the miraculous deeds of God. These celebrations, including cheerful singing and dancing in merriment, were a remembrance of the ways God provides for so much more than mere survival.

Today is no exception.

Jesus does not want us to white-knuckle our way through life with only the hope of escaping hell as the means of our joy. He wants us to experience happiness – to have our hearts so overflowing with mirth that we cannot suppress our laughter. He created the sensation of contentment that can only come after a hearty chuckle. He relishes in our enthusiasm. He made our smiles to brighten our entire countenance.

And this splendid reality will be the only thing we know in His physical presence. But until that glorious day, we must walk a road of brokenness, contending with thorns and thistles, with only fleeting moments to experience the deposit of this sweet promise.

Our fleeting moment was this past week when Hope turned six.

Her birthday party was simple and only included our immediate family. We have a tradition of allowing the birthday person to pick their dinner menu. Hope’s included sweet cream biscuits, bran flakes, cheddar cheese blocks, and biscoff spread from the jar. She belly laughed when she opened her present and saw the perfectly pink baby doll face staring out from the package. Watching her lick the biscoff from her little fingers brought a surge of emotion to my heart. I was caught up in her happiness.

Hope is the one person in our family who is escaping a vast majority of this pain. Asher never abused her sexually and he rarely hurt her emotionally. She was safeguarded from the feelings of guilt, shame, responsibility, and pain that coursed through the rest of us. Her understanding of Asher’s absence is simplistic and further protects her mind. While Joseph and I agree that it will be necessary for her to better understanding these events in the future, that day is still a distant point on the horizon. For now, Hope, as her name reminds us each day, is a shining beacon of what our family once had and longs for again.

My prayer, as I desperately cling to the joy of the Lord, is that one day soon, He will restore our happiness.