It is interesting how the selfsame sensation can in one instance be pleasurable and at another time sorrowful. When my kids were small and I was a round-the-clock mom, on the rare occasions when my husband took them out and left me behind, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I enjoyed every detail of it—the folding of the laundry alone, the ritual of making myself a sandwich alone, the quietness.
Now my children are all gone and I was just hanging up socks to dry after a walk in the slush in my leaky boots and thinking that 10 years ago I would have enjoyed that minor act done in an empty house. Today the motion makes me blue.
Identical outward experience, very different inward experience. The reason for the difference, of course, is that in the early years of child raising I knew that the separation was very temporary and that I would see my children running around the house after the weekend. But anyone who has been through empty nesting, and not just tossed the phrase around glibly, will know that the quiet of “nevermore” is not of the same quality at all as the quiet of two days.
But cheer up. The phenomenon works both ways, in a good way as well as a bad. For it is also the case that an inherently painful event, even a physically painful event, can be transformed into joy (not just abstract joy but felt joy) under certain circumstances. We do not even need to debate that, since Acts records a concrete example, in which Peter and other apostles emerged from a bout in jail elated:
“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Anything you are going through will be experienced according to your perspective. This may seem like a hard thing to say to people who have suffered unspeakable losses, but in fact it is the only hope, even for them. The ultimate perspective is that the Lord is coming again on the clouds and He will bring with Him all who have chosen to wait for Him. This is no pie in the sky, and no straw-grasping psychological defense mechanism, but God’s honest truth. Because of who God is, you can always have joy in the greatest grief.