A few years ago, Andrew Peterson released a song titled “Rejoice” and I didn’t like it.
This is odd for a few reasons. Reason one: I’m usually a pretty big fan of Peterson’s poetic flair in songwriting. It’s kinda rare for me to say I don’t like a song he wrote. Reason two: I’m generally quite a bit more Tigger than Eeyore, and you’d think a song with that title would be a perfect fit for my sunny Enneagram seven-ness.
But while I expected an up-beat, sunshiney tune that made me want to dance a jig, instead what I heard was a song speaking of dungeons, strangers, and long nights. The tune is slow and melancholy. I actually hardly listened to the lyrics; I’d just heard my feelings and hit the skip button.
I didn’t like it. It evoked emotions that seemed opposite of rejoicing. So, in classic Enneagram 7 running-from-pain form, I’d often hit skip when it surfaced on my playlist.
And then, once while I was meandering a stage of life that seemed particularly difficult, I forgot to hit skip. And the words found an aching place inside of me and gently landed there.
“And when the peace turns to danger
The nights are longer than days
And every friend has a stranger’s face
Then deep within the dungeon cell
You have to make a choice
Those words landed somewhere that felt really true. Strangely, there in that dark night of my soul, this call to rejoice didn’t beckon me to a dishonest rejection of reality; it actually called me into the hard reality and then asked me to choose something firm.
Could it be that I’ve limited my definition of this word? That I’ve only tuned into the joy-filled side and missed the depths of its strength?
Perhaps the best-known Scripture boasting this word is the passage in Philippians 4, when Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” But even here, this action verb is among company of some other fairly serious verbs: be reasonable, don’t be anxious, pray. This is about something more than sugary joy.
These are some of Paul’s closing remarks to his dear friends at Philippi. And this is what he tells them to always do. The next verse he tells them to always pray, and then reminds them that the peace of God is always guarding their hearts.
But first, he says always rejoice.
That’s hard. Because Tigger-ish though I may be, I sure don’t always feel a bubbly stream of happiness. And in some seasons, I’m seeing the dungeon far more than the third-floor sea-view balcony. And I sure am not feeling rejoice.
But yet he says it: always rejoice.
That’s when I have to make a choice.
Going through the hard can make us stronger. Getting through another finals week leaves the student bone-weary and yet somehow more resilient. Entering a rigid training regime completely exhausts a marathon runner, but it also prepares him for race day.
But the hard can also leave us empty, void of anything and everything that might stir us on. When we’re walking through the deep valley with nothing to hold to, there is a weariness even we followers of Jesus know. We know that we know that we’re never alone, but there are times my arms flail as I search desperately for something to hold to. A hand-hold.
Maybe always rejoice is a hand-rail, the support we so desperately need. It’s not an escape route, a pie-in-the-sky avoidance-of-pain method, but rather, it’s a strength. A deep, firm, strong grasp that claims that something better than this is on its way.
Peterson continues his lament of rejoice with these words:
“Be still and know that the Father
Will hasten down from his throne
He will rejoice over you with song”
Is that not so beautiful? My decision to rejoice is not a choice to send my voice out into a void, it’s a decision to join the one who is already rejoicing: Jesus.
That’s a song I want to sing. That’s a strength I want to claim.
I’ll conclude with the final words of this once-skipped, now loved song:
“So set your face against the night
And raise your broken voice.
How has this been a season of rejoicing for you?