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Agony and Joy

Blog Headers 2023-24 (20)

Editor’s Note: Along with a Servite Sister, lay missioner Joleen Johnson contemplates the connections between agony and joy, especially in regards to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection.

As the Easter season begins, I wondered: What is the connection between agony and joy (or ecstasy)? I asked this question to a very wise Servite Sister* living here in the convent with the Franciscan Sisters in Jamaica. It’s been beautiful and spiritually beneficial to have the Servites living with the Franciscans. 

Sister Rose gave me a lovely response to my question about the connection between agony and joy. Her thoughts follow in italics

“New life comes into being only through pain and agony. With careful reflection one can see this in nature: the seed must go through a process of breaking apart after being buried in the earth before the young plant is seen, then the beautiful blossoms must fall off the tree before fruit can appear.” 

I am reminded that Jesus was also buried in the earth on Good Friday after his body was broken, before he rose and his new life was seen in appearing to his disciples. Likewise, “A baby cannot be born without the mother experiencing agony and pain, but when she has gone through this suffering, her joy is beyond words.”

We humans are created with the potential to become the perfect image of God our Creator. This is a lifelong journey which is completed only at our passing from this world. Only then can we enter into the joy of the ‘fullness of life’, i.e. our perfect Self.” Imagine our God, who is infinite perfection, creates in us the ability to become the perfect image of himself, even through all of the brokenness and evil influences of this world. Perhaps the agonies and pains of this worldly life lead us to the joy of what God has created us for all along: to spend eternity joyfully with him in heaven. This is God’s intention all along for each and every one of us, his beloved children: Deep unity with himself in heaven! “Throughout our human life we are daily being born into that fullness of life (perfection), but it is accomplished only through dying to the ‘old self’ in order to make room for the new. This means letting go of the attitudes and habits that keep us back from achieving our true identity as children of God. Sincere ‘letting go’ necessarily involves suffering and pain. But then… the reward is the joy of a life lived in God.” 

Recall Jesus’ words in John 12:24-25, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He goes on to say that whoever loves his or her life will lose it, and whoever hates their life in this world will keep it in eternal life. Perhaps these words can also be applied to what Sister Rose speaks about in dying to our “old selves”, and when we die to those habits that keep us from God. Although letting go is very painful and dying is difficult, only then can we experience new life, and our true identities, our original identities, as God’s children. Maybe this is reflective of what some of us have been doing during Lent; it’s the perfect time to die to what keeps us back with Jesus and rise again to the new life with Him on Easter Sunday. 

“Jesus has shown us in his own human body that the paradox of suffering (Good Friday) leads to new life (Easter Sunday) if, in faith and trust in God, we surrender to the power of God’s presence in and among us in whatever condition we find ourselves- no matter how devastating it might seem- we will know without a doubt that God holds the ultimate control.” 

The agony leads to the joy, and the death leads to life, as exemplified by Jesus’ death and Resurrection. 

Recognizing that we often have to experience pain and death to certain things in order to experience joy and life doesn’t make the painful experiences less painful, but it gives us hope for the future, a unique trait of Christianity. Who would have thought back in Jesus’ time that Jesus would have risen from the dead after he was beaten and crucified to death in front of their eyes? No one had ever done that before, so it was unimaginable. 

Perhaps this Easter season we can take some time to reflect on the agonies, pains, and heartbreaks we are suffering in our lives, those things we are open with, and those sufferings of our bleeding wounds that not a single other soul knows about. As we reflect on our agonies, perhaps we can also take the opportunity to reflect on and be comforted by the hope of joy to come, and trusting that Jesus’ agony also brings us the ability to rise out of our darkest places into new life with him. 

*Learn more about the Servites here: https://osms.org/ 

Question for Reflection: How can you die to your old self so that you can experience the joy of rising with Jesus?

Joleen discovered her passion for overseas service during her first mission trip in 2012 to Guatemala. Since then she has served in Haiti and studied abroad in India, teaching English in an elementary school, after which she began to feel the call to longer term overseas service. Joleen is excited to see what God will teach her through FMS, and looks forward to living out His call for her. She is inspired by FMS’s humble and relational approach to ministry.