Edward, my seven year old, told me this morning he didn’t want to go to school. I pointed out that today is Friday, his favourite day of the week, the day of the week with most school time dedicated to fun and play. To this he responded, ‘well, I only want to go if it can be golden time and star of the week straight away.’

I know how he feels.

Can’t we skip straight to the good bit?

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In The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth, Madeleine L’Engle writes a somewhat surprising statement;

“…the difference between happiness and joy is sorrow”.

It took me a while to get my head round this, but my heart understood immediately. Happiness cannot withstand sorrow. Joy is born out of sorrow.

But what does this mean?

As a child I remember a visiting missionary, or possibly a preacher or wise man coming to stay. In a house where my Father led a large independent church this was not uncommon. I liked this man (not always the case!). He was kind and, as a child, I noticed this quality. One mealtime I remember him making a comment across the kitchen table. At the time I couldn’t hope to understand what he meant when he said,

“…life is a vale of tears.”

At first I thought he meant a veil of tears, and all I could picture was a salty waterfall pouring down your face. Which didn’t seems practical or possible.

A year or so ago, my Aunt repeated this statement to me, and now I understand.

There are some things it takes a good few years to get your head around.

Life is complicated and full of sorrow. And this statement, which our visitor mentioned in passing, on the surface appears depressing. But it has become a great comfort to me in the tougher days of the last few years. I have made my way through a vale of tears. A walk made in darkness and confusion and loneliness.

Remembering these words, I first heard as a child, reassured me I was not in the wrong place. They reminded me this journey was not caused by a wrong turning, but because sorrow is an inevitable part of life.

The psalmist writes,

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”

or in another translation (NLT)

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley”

Not if, but when.


The desire to ignore, or surpress, or try and contain the sorrow in our lives causes us more pain in the long run. Better by far to accept it, acknowledge it, and decide to walk through it.

The other, surprising outcome of being willing to go on this journey is that, as you are willing to experience the sorrow, joy becomes possible.

The rest of text I believe Madeleine L’Engle is quoting from says;

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope–and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend up on it) disappoint us.”*

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In the life of my seven year old, he has to get through literacy and numeracy to arrive at golden time. It is a ‘sorrow’ he must endure if he wants to experience the joy of free-play, and the possibility of being named ‘Star of the Week’.

And for me, there have been sorrows to walk through, and there will be again.

It is tempting to want to avoid, or ignore, the dark and shadowy places as I journey onward. Sometimes I want to stop altogether.

But I keep walking, and while I am on this journey, as I acknowledge my sorrows, joy becomes possible.

Hope becomes possible.

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* Taken from Walter Wangerin Jr’s book, Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark.