I've always said I wish God could teach me the biggest lessons without the biggest heartaches. But I usually find it's seasons of grief and suffering when I learn the most.
More than twenty years later, the tragic loss of my mother to cancer is still one of the most painful parts of my life. She was diagnosed with lung cancer at forty-seven. After some gnarly months of treatment, my mother was declared "in remission," only to suffer a shocking relapse and a rapid decline. My mom breathed her last breath on this side of eternity on July 3, 1997.
It shook me to the core. My mom was one of those larger-than-life people, full of love, vitality, wisdom, and fun. She was amazing at letting you be you while still helping to guide and shape you. For me, it was almost impossible to imagine living in a world without my mom. And I didn't want to.
After her death, I was unsure how this tragedy would affect my family. If mothers are designed to be the glue that holds a family together, my mother felt like more—like some sort of Department of Defense, military-grade, highly classified, too-strong-for-the-public superglue. I was haunted by the thought of How can we go forward as a family?
But I have seen us blossom despite my mother's absence. I have watched everyone in my family step in and up in some of the most beautiful ways.
One of the most beautiful and joyful examples of this was when my dad got remarried. My sisters and I adore my father's wife, Marianne. And we were so happy for them both. But my dear grandparents, Anita and Anthony—my mother's parents!—were also there to celebrate this new union.
Tragedy can present an incredible opportunity for the best parts of our humanity to emerge. If you think about it, the greatest tragedy in history was the cross of Jesus Christ. And God also leveraged Jesus's finished work on the cross to become the greatest triumph in history.
Although the disciples wept at the death of Jesus, their joy was unspeakable at his resurrection. But for the disciples, their joy hinged on accepting the fact that Jesus was who he said he was when he appeared to them after his resurrection.
Some of us are still living in the tragedies we've experienced and are unwilling to receive the comfort of Jesus. I lived that way for a long time. When my mother passed away, I was in that spot. I didn't understand, and her death felt wrong in every possible way. But what I didn't realize was that God was seeking to do a restorative and resurrecting work in my life.
Jesus is the Great Physician, and a good doctor doesn't impose himself on you. He offers his treatment plan, and as the patient, you can either accept it or reject it and go in a different direction.
See, God doesn't change your tragedy; he changes you through the tragedy. He doesn't make it go away; he redeems it. I remember when my mother passed away, someone said, "Daniel, listen, time heals all wounds." But I've learned that, unfortunately, time doesn't heal all wounds.
Time can make some wounds almost start to feel normal, but only Jesus truly heals wounds.
When Jesus heals, he doesn't undo what's been done to us. He takes the wrongs and the pain we've experienced, and he works in his infinite wisdom to comfort us.
Through that experience, we are equipped to comfort others in their grief. Our empathy lacks substance unless we've walked through suffering ourselves with Jesus unless we have mourned and been comforted by the Lord.
Through the tragedies of our lives, God brings comfort. That redemption leads to an outcome we would never expect. He's always in the business of resurrecting and redeeming even the small details of our lives. And what we experience of God's comfort now is just a foretaste, a precursor of Jesus's return, when he will set everything right.
Now, here's where this gets really fun.
As we suffer and as we mourn, God comforts us, and the fruit of that comfort is what? Can you guess?
If you let your spiritual poverty lead to mourning and then let God comfort you in the midst of that mourning, the joy that arises won't be based on your circumstances but rather on a disposition of your heart—a confidence that God has good plans for you, no matter what else goes on. My friends, that is joy!
God wants to bestow true joy on all who believe in Jesus. This is a deep-flowing joy, based in a reality beyond any circumstances we find ourselves in. Let that marinate for a second! We can have an inner state that is incredibly, joyfully out of keeping with even the most difficult situations we face. This isn't denying trouble in our lives; it's triumphing over it.
As we continue to pursue what it means to live crazy happy, we can start here, with an acknowledgment that the joy of the follower of Jesus is a brokenhearted joy.
Daniel Fusco is the author of Crazy Happy, and lead pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, Washington. His messages air weekly on the Hillsong Channel.
This is an excerpt from Crazy Happy: Nine Surprising Ways to Live the Truly Beautiful Life by Daniel Fusco (Waterbrook, 2021). Used with permission.