Someone broke into my wife’s car last week.
We were attending our good friends’ wedding. It was a chilly Saturday night, and my wife and I were dressed up and out of the house without kids for the first time in a long while. Our babysitter didn’t care how late we might stay out, and we planned to take full advantage of that. Before the wedding, we had a delicious meal at one of our favorite restaurants. Later at the wedding, we enjoyed the company of good friends; we even danced a little. It was a wonderful evening.
And then, after the wedding was over and the bride and groom had made their celebratory exit, we returned to the car. As I pressed the button to unlock the door, I noticed lots of shattered glass on the ground. My first thought was that someone had dropped a beer bottle, but then I realized that the car’s back window was gone. I opened the door, and even more pieces of glass fell to the ground. It took only a few seconds to realize that my wife’s purse—along with her wallet, credit cards, and driver’s license—was gone. We had been robbed.
We flagged down a police officer and filed a report, trying to mentally process the violation that had occurred. My wife shivered in the cold, feeling hurt and despair; I was on the phone cancelling her credit cards, feeling frustration and anger. Every time I shifted my feet, I heard the scratching of thousands of tiny pieces of glass crunching beneath my shoes. The sound itself made me feel even angrier.
The next morning—as I continued to process what had happened and attempted to find someone willing to fix a broken window on a Sunday—I had a thought: We live in this kind of tension every day.
We live in the tension between celebration and tragedy.
At the wedding, we had been laughing and dancing and sharing stories and enjoying life with our friends. We watched two people who love each other enter this beautiful, sacred bond of marriage. If you can’t find joy at a wedding, where else can you possibly find it?
Then, only two hours later—twenty feet away from where the wedding had taken place—we were filing a police report, canceling credit cards, standing in a puddle of broken glass.
This is the tension of human life. We are always right around the corner from a potential moment of joy or a potential moment of sorrow.
In Genesis 3—immediately after humanity makes a tragic choice and God is explaining the consequences of this choice—God says to the woman in the story:
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” (Genesis 3:16)
Of course, on one hand this is literal: childbirth is physically painful (or so it has been explained to me). However, on the other hand, there is a symbolic meaning to this as well. God is saying to the woman, Even your moments of greatest joy will be accompanied by great pain.
This is the burden of men and women who live in a world that has experienced profound brokenness. Our moments of joy will often go hand-in-hand with moments of great pain.
Even in our most celebratory, life-giving moments, there will be something that remains broken—an unfulfilled longing, a pang of sadness, a desire for something just out of reach.
Every time we attend a wedding, there is the possibility of broken glass in the parking lot.
So what do we do about this? Is it really as bleak as it sounds?
Here’s what we are invited to do: Live fully within each of the moments.
In moments of joy, revel in the joy. Breathe deeply, take it all in. Be grateful that you have a reason to celebrate—that your heart beats and your life marches on.
In moments of pain, do not shy away from feeling what you feel. Own the pain, and name the sorrow.
It should also be said that in moments of pain we often discover the strength of our friendships. As we stood in the parking lot on that cold night filing a police report, our good friends Brian and Chandra stood with us, providing comfort and solidarity. In the past few months, I have experienced several of these kinds of moments, and I have never felt as if I were standing alone in the cold. Caroline and I have amazing friends, and we knew that long before our car was burglarized.
I wish I lived in a world where cars didn’t get broken into and people were always kind to one another.
But I don’t.
So the best I can do is contribute to the good and acknowledge the bad. I can celebrate with others as they get married, have babies, receive promotions at work, and find love in their lives.
I can also stand in the cold with others as they endure the pain that life sometimes brings—I can be the kind of friend that reminds other people that they are not alone.
So in joy and in sorrow, may we celebrate our own humanity, and may we be the kinds of people who respond to all situations in ways that will make the world a better place.
What do you think? Has it been your experience that there are appropriate ways to respond to both good and bad circumstances in life?