‘Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice’ Psalm 51v8
Over the last few days I have been trying to write a post about this lovely and seldom used word gladness. You wouldn’t believe how bogged down I’ve become! That seems like an oxymoron – ‘bogged down with gladness’ – and of course it is. What went wrong – why haven’t I been able to express the delight, mirror the joy? It’s partly the old truism that if you examine your happiness too much it evaporates… in getting out my magnifying glass, dictionary and concordance I seem to have dissected the life out of it and ended up sounding didactic and overly-theoretical! Gladness is after all a feeling and feelings are notoriously fickle, subject to alter with any and every physical and practical circumstance of life. There are so many things in our own situation that are not ‘as they should be’ that the old familiar sadness soon creeps back in – an echo of David’s ‘crushed bones’ in the verse above. I suppose it all depends on what you focus on – negative thoughts will lead to negative feelings and a downward spiral.
Come on – I certainly was glad when Becca called last week to say she’d got her part-time job as a ‘service manager’ for the WRVS in the Brighton hospitals – it’s a long awaited fillip for her, not to say a relief from so many disappointments – a step forward, a cause to celebrate. And of course I am still glad for her – and glad too that Sam got a special guest pass to the London drum show because he had the presence of mind and courage to call his old drumming friend and ask for one when he discovered that the tickets had all sold out while he was abroad last week.
These are just little things – not yet Sam’s uber-expensive stolen computer being traced, nor even his brain tumour disappearing… but even little things go some way toward answering my cry of frustration ‘when will there be good news?!’ It is the deep groan of hope deferred: God knows we can only take so much and I have been appealing to His compassion as the Father who remembers that we are only made of dust (Psalm 103v13-14) and proclaiming the second half of the oft quoted verse ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’ (Proverbs 13v12). Because I have had to bury my longings and ignore my inner yearnings and dreams to stay focussed on walking the path we are on – being here for Sam, unable to move house, Martin’s daily grind, what can we do to find some relief and when, oh when, can we go on holiday again?! We are both so weary.
I suppose I’ve learned to live with the ‘crushed bones’ feeling. Although in Psalm 51 David was talking about the consequences of his sin – and although I haven’t gone way ‘off the rails’ like he did – I can definitely identify with the oppression that living amidst the fallenness of this world can bring when the weight of life itself can just feel too heavy at times. ‘In this earthly tent we groan and are burdened’ 2 Corinthians 5v4 Yet we do not have to live under the dust of death, in constant mourning! Can there be a turning for me? Could there be joy and gladness instead? How can I find it again?
Well, as I said, I found loads of Bible verses that mention it – see this page – and then there’s the Thesaurus which gives so many alternative descriptions that round out the word:
1) I’m really glad you’re coming: pleased, happy, delighted, thrilled, overjoyed, elated, gleeful; gratified, grateful, thankful; (informal: tickled pink, over the moon)
2) I’d be glad to help: willing, eager, happy, pleased, delighted; ready, prepared
3) glad tidings: pleasing, welcome, happy, joyful, cheering, heartening, gratifying.
I particularly liked what the dictionary said about the origin in ancient languages:
ORIGIN Old English glæd originally in the sense bright, shining, of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse: glathr ‘bright, joyous’and German: glatt ‘smooth,’ also to Latin: glaber ‘smooth, hairless.’
I like that picture – bright, shining, joyous and smooooooooth, like having oil poured over your head – pure refreshment and sweet perfume, a sensation of relief, utterly glorious. Actually, Scripture says Jesus Himself is anointed with the oil of gladness (Psalm 45v7) – no wonder His face shines like the sun! (Matthew 17v2) So gladness somehow shines like glory bursting out – no wonder we talk about the glow of happiness; maybe I’m beginning to get an idea where I need to look! It is not, after all, dependant on circumstances, but on a source that remains constant.
So I’m led back to Scripture:
‘Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure. Psalm 16v5-9
It’s that key word ‘therefore’ that points to the cause of gladness – and, of course, it’s the Lord. Didn’t Jesus say ‘In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer – I have overcome the world!’? He didn’t promise us an easy ride, but He did say He had won the battle; yes, when hope is deferred the heart does get sick – otherwise I wouldn’t be relying on these anti-depressants – but my heart still knows it’s all about timing and trust. Of course the waiting is hard and there are no guarantees that things will turn out the way we would like, but our utter certainty is that God is faithful and good and there is always a way through with Jesus: He will never leave or forsake us. Surely He is the source of gladness, even in the midst of trouble and it’s keeping focussed on His example that lifts us up again. As Hebrews 12 says (just prior to the bit about being disciplined that I quoted in my last post!) ‘let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’
That is how our faith works, by persevering to the end – finding that the Lord is our Shepherd even through the dark valley of death – while continuing to hold to the divine promise that all the wrongs will one day be put right:
The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing… The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing, everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. “I, even I, am he who comforts you”. Isaiah 51v11-12
That bright glad feeling can rise, even at unexpected times – a sunny morning can do it, good food and wine, a celebration with friends or a kind word – and of course the sense of peace when I sit and silently pray. It IS accessible if I look in the right places and don’t allow fears and anxieties to dominate my mind. But more permanent and trustworthy than all of these, as Song of Songs says, ‘I will rejoice IN YOU and be glad‘.