Any real relationship involves both joy and pain. To be in an actual friendship with another person means one gets to be actually known and loved; it means enjoyment of another and life together, including life’s sweetest moments. It is a JOY to be known and loved. But a real relationship also involves PAIN: there is pain in being misunderstood; there is pain in feeling overlooked; there is pain that comes from our sin—both the sin in ourselves and the other; there is pain in seeing a friend going through hardship; there is pain in feeling distance from each other (but also joy in reuniting).
A superficial relationship spares one of both the joys and pains of a real relationship. Surely, we all know this from experience. It is safer to isolate oneself from others (I know I’ve read a good Lewis quote on this somewhere!). It easier to do this to and costs us far less. But doing this also cuts us off from the life-giving joy of knowing another, of really being known. It also cuts us off from serving another and being served.
I wrote in recent church plant newsletter about the joy and pain we have experienced as a church in 2019. This year we experienced both joy and pain. We felt joy in our life together, sharing in the celebration of God’s grace in our lives, marriages, families, and experiences. We rejoiced over the birth of another baby, we rejoiced at answered prayer; we felt gladness in seeing God act; we rejoiced to worship and treasure God together; we rejoiced to see God provide for our needs and sustain us; and we experienced joy in serving each other and those in the community. But we also experienced pain together. This was felt most acutely in the pain of seeing one of our members die very unexpectedly. We also experienced pain in various ways through the reality of our own sin and the sin of those we were trying to minister to. Life together meant joy and pain.
I believe this is the normal experience of being a member of a local church. There is pain. There is joy. Church is not about having our felt needs met, but gathering together to worship and adore our great God who loves us and sent His Son to save us. In this sin-cursed world, a world where people die and people betray and people are misunderstood, there is pain. But there is joy and healing in Jesus Christ, who came and defeated sin and death and who promises eternal life on a new earth freed from darkness and evil and death. There is joy to be had now with God’s people in a local church, where Jesus is the head and we as His people gather together under His loving care.