Jesus said that he came to give life, and not only that, but life to the fullest. (John 10:10)
So, what is life to the full?
In all four of the gospel accounts, Jesus is recorded as saying that whoever tries to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life (for Christ's sake) will gain it.
What a tremendous paradox. In order to have something, we must let it go. This theme is persistent throughout the teaching of Jesus, whether it be with possessions (Luke 6:30), relationships (Luke 14:26), desires (Matt. 16:24), identity and vocation (Matt. 23:1-11), status (Matt. 23:12), and even the Kingdom of God (Matt. 20:16).
Sorrow is what accompanies loss, while joy is what accompanies something gained (as well as the hope of gaining it). We see throughout Scripture that there is no end to what may be gained in Christ, even to the point of being told that we are co-heirs to the Kingdom along with our elder brother Jesus (Rom. 8:17). It is also plain that there is no end to the amount of sorrow that may be experienced in life- even to those who are in Christ. In this passage from Romans 8, the way to glory is gained by going down the road of sorrow. The difference for those in Jesus is that their hope is met by the promise that their sorrow will always be turned to joy, though not immediately (John 16:20).
Life is experienced on an emotional continuum:
It is in light of this promise that I am able to engage with sorrow. Life to the full includes this entire paradigm, not just one aspect of it.
It seems that this is not welcome news to many modern-day believers in my part of the world. We work so hard to turn off sorrow, and in so doing we cancel out joy. The means of numbing an emotion are endless, varied and always evolving. Sure, we could use drugs like cannabis, xanax or sugar, but we can also check-out through busyness at work, school, sports or church. The point is, when you turn off one end of the spectrum you inevitably cancel out the emotional reality on the other end. This is not the way of Jesus. To avoid the pain of loss by avoiding intimacy among friends is to avoid the joy of love and belonging found in the midst of friends. This tension is constant throughout life. Unfortunately, we are a culture obsessed with living in pleasure and pleasure alone.
Henri Nouwen speaks to this in his book 'Bread for the Journey':
"If we cling to our friends, we may lose them, but when we are nonpossessive in our relationships, we will make many friends. When we want to be in the center, we easily end up on the margins, but when we are free enough to be wherever we must be, we find ourselves often in the center. Giving away our lives for others is the greatest of all human arts. This will gain us our lives."
This is one of the great mysteries of faith, in order to have you must be willing to lose. To hold on to something you must loosen your grip and trust that the Father will give you exactly what you need - even when it seems that He isn't. In order to have joy, you must be willing to meet sorrow.
In the midst of talking about intentionally engaging sorrow, I offer you Paul's warning from 1 Cor. 13:3-4:
'If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.'