I have heard it for most of my life. I have heard it from my 4th Grade Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Westfall. I heard it from my pastors. I have heard it from college and seminary professors. I have heard it from members of the church, like Mary Gorham. I have heard it from many devotional readings. I have heard that I should rejoice and be thankful --- always!
I agree we should rejoice, and I love to rejoice and to give thanks and praise to God for God's goodness and rich blessings to me. I encourage rejoicing to my congregations and to you, my amazing pastors. But rejoice always? That has always seemed like a stretch to me. To give thanks in all things seems so impossible and even so unreal and false.
Yet, there it is in scripture; Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!"
When attendance is dropping, and there is no explanation: Rejoice?
When the offerings are low, and the DS keeps harping about Fair Share Mission Asking: Rejoice?
When the weather is bad (or too good), and people skip church to communion with God via TV (or the lake or mountains): Rejoice?
When your children rebel and fight with you: Rejoice?
When there is illness in your family or in your friend's life: Rejoice?
When you are coming up dry, and Sunday is here: Rejoice?
When your faith is at rock bottom: Rejoice?
When the wilderness journey is too much, and the temptations are, well, so tempting: Rejoice?
I confess I struggle with rejoicing. Complaining, belly aching, whinning, and crying come easy but not rejoicing. I have a sense that if I rejoiced it would only be for show or not truthful to myself.
But I'm just thinking, maybe to rejoice is not to do cartwheels or shouting with glee but to simply give thanks that through all the "stuff" of life ,we are never alone, never forsaken, never without the power of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe we have given too much expectation to rejoicing when the power of rejoicing is simply to acknowledge that there nothing in this life that can separate us for the love of Christ Jesus. There is no situation that will make the Lord of life turn away from us. There is not a stress that will drive the Son of God from our presence.
While our hearts might be broken and our faith less than stalwart, we can rejoice deep within our souls that God is with us, holding us, loving us, and working to bring resolution as God works to make us stronger and wiser in our faith and Christ walk.
I know you all know this, but I wanted to remind you again. Sometimes Lent (or any season) can drag on and wear us down, so I simply want you to know I'm thinking of you ... and me in these 40 days, praying that even in the darkest hour we might find the strength to rejoice and give thanks. If for no other reason, Easter is coming!