Some folks act surprised when sorrows or struggles touch their lives; others find the surprise to be joy. I am one of the latter. It is not that I am miserable, I am not. It is not that I am always sad. I am not. But I expect the day to find its share of disappointments and trials. Our Lord warned us of such. I take Him seriously. But hidden within the moments of trial and trouble are moments of great joy. What a friend calls "the happy dance." Perhaps it is the nature of the Pastoral Office that we are magnets to people's problems. I find that so often when I deal with individuals and families, it is in their moments of crisis, sorrow, or trouble. The worst news a doctor could bring or the loss of a loved one so dear or the trials of marriage and children and work, the people unemployed, those with mental illness, the ever present complainers (I am sure every Pastor has them). You cannot be a Teflon Pastor and let it all slide off you -- some of it hits you hard and every Pastor carries around the scars of their parishioners wounds.
This does not distress me or cause me great turmoil but it is part of the road I walk. I would not trade it for another but often I wish I had all the answers. The sad truth of our sinful world is that there are no solutions or answers to many of these things -- often the best we can do is to hang in there by the grace of God. That is not a defeatist voice speaking but a real one -- I know for sure what was going on in the Psalmist's heart when I read through some of those wounded cries... but I also know that I do not have to see the outcome resolved to know that God is present, that His grace is sufficient even for this struggle, and that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose... This I know...
Now to get on to the point of all of this... I got a call that two members of my former parish and great friends were heading through Tennessee and would stop by. Their presence brought such joy to my day. One, our godchild now "all growed up" and the other, his dad, walked through the Church as we showed them around and then we headed to the micro brewery in town for lunch (with my wife and my oldest son). It took an hour before we could stop talking enough to even order! Another hour and we had barely finished eating. Then they had to be on their way -- but what a wonderful surprise of joy!
Then I got home and my wife showed me a gift bag that a wonderful person had brought to the house. In it were two surprises for her and two for me (if you must know, mine were two fountain pens!! Yeah!!!). This person's thoughtfulness and the way she knew exactly my wife's taste -- on something that is definitely personal taste -- and her generosity in giving to me two of her treasured possessions -- well, it can only be one thing -- the surprise of joy!!
The surprise of joy -- this gift of God -- touches our lives often -- maybe not as often as troubles and trials -- but often enough for us to glimpse His face of love smiling upon us, caring for us as the dear Heavenly Father He is, knowing our hearts and their capacity for stress and their delight in joy's surprises, and reaching out to us through the faces of people familiar and even strangers... well it is the best. Period. I will thank these folks personally but I will also in my prayers remember them before the Lord for the way He has blessed me (and my family) through them and for the riches of His grace and the warmth of His countenance He has shown to me through them. The surprise of joy -- big, small, just enough.... open your eyes and you will see it... I know. It is not predictable and we cannot engineer it, but when we need it most, God hides this joy amid all the ordinary tests, trials, and temptations of this mortal life.