Celebrating Joy Amid Loss
My husband and I became foster parents in 2014. Since then, we have had ever-changing family photos. I will forever have holes in my heart because of the absence of the kids we have fostered for a week, a month, or longer, who have called me “Mom.”
The apostle Paul was no stranger to hardship and loss. Yet he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). And, “Rejoice always,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
During our years of fostering we have struggled as we’ve walked through our foster kids’ difficult behaviors and prayed for their emotional healing. Our “good-bye” moments have been filled with tears with little ones we have loved. Yet God’s Word is clear to believers—joy is to be a consistent part of our story.
What can we do to celebrate joy when we’re on a path that brings inevitable loss?
Remember Jesus’ Story
Jesus’ earthly life began with joy yet ended in sorrow—or so it would seem. The gospels tell us that although His life on earth ended with great pain and suffering, His Resurrection proves there is more to the story than meets the eye: Sorrow is often a conduit for joy, death can bring forth life, and loss is only for a little while.
Jesus told His disciples they would weep and mourn while the world rejoiced, but their grief would turn to joy that no one could take away (see John 16:20).
The author of Hebrews encourages us to focus on this lesson as we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus, who “ … For the joy set before him he endured the cross … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2–3).
Keeping our eternal perspective in focus can help us know the joy of serving God—even when the journey is difficult or painful.
Surrender Our Mistakes
We recently said goodbye to a foster daughter who had lived with us for seven months. While I knew I had loved her well, I also wished I had done better. The morning after she left, I sat before the Lord and offered Him my regrets and mistakes, praying, “God, I offer these pieces to you and ask that you would take my broken efforts and put them back together into something good.” In response to my prayer, this verse filled my thoughts:
“[He will] … bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a).
Our lives will never be perfect this side of heaven. Yet carrying around guilt because of the mistakes we’ve made will push away the joy God wants to give us. His comfort that day reminded me that I need not despair: He would take my efforts—an offering of ashes—and turn them into something beautiful.
My memories from fostering the kids who have since left our home are filled with games of hide-and-seek, playing “make believe,” sharing funny words and phrases, and teaching them how to catch a ball or ride a bike. Although we no longer have their physical presence with us, they will always be in our hearts. Living fully in each moment and remaining aware that we can make a joyful memory any minute is a key to letting joy be a consistent part of our lives.
At a playground recently, one of my foster children and I played tag. We laughed together when she realized I was harder to catch than she expected. Pausing to catch her breath, she said with a smile, “It’s fun to play tag with an adult.”
She was right. Life can be fun—even for us adults—if we celebrate the smiles in the small moments and hold onto the joyful memories.