When life gives you lemons…

We’ve all heard the peppy, upbeat saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Nice sentiment, as far as it goes.  But not everyone appreciates that kind of sunny, bumper sticker optimism.

At the tame end of the retorts is the t-shirt that says, “When life gives you lemons, keep them, because–hey–free lemons.”  Taking the cynicism up a notch, we get, “When life gives you lemons, hope you don’t have a paper cut.”  And at the snarkier and more hostile end of the continuum are the suggestions to “get mad” and “make life take [the lemons] back” or even “throw them at somebody.”  That last one was on the back of a car I was following in the carpool lane a couple of weeks ago.

I made sure to give the driver plenty of space.

How we react to things that happen during the day is, of course, influenced by our emotional state.  Psychologist Peter Vishton tells the story of being on a bus watching a woman who was obviously frustrated.  It showed in her actions and facial expression as she struggled with a zipper on her bag.  She happened to look up at another passenger who was wearing a “Life is Good” t-shirt that sported a whimsical drawing of a man enjoying an outdoor run with his dog.  The woman snorted derisively at the shirt, wondering aloud why anyone would wear something so stupid.  After all, how can life be good when you’re being chased by a dog?  Mind you, in the picture on the shirt, the man is clearly smiling (you can see the shirt here).  But when you’re already having a bad day, everything gets filtered through that negative state of mind.

When I heard that story, I wondered: how might she have responded to a sermon on Christian joy?

These days, I look around me, at the lives of friends and family, and it’s nearly all lemons.  Injustice.  Broken relationships.  Chronic pain and illness.  Another death in the family.  “Life is good”?  Well, I certainly wouldn’t say that to one who was suffering any of these or a thousand other injuries to body or soul.  I’m not sure I’d want someone to say that to me.

But “God is good”?  Yes, I admit I need to hear that.  Somehow, all of the faithful have to get there.

Christian joy is neither a transitory emotional state nor an endless succession of good days.  Joy cannot exist without faith, the conviction that God is good even when all else seems bad, that God is sovereign even when chaos seems to reign.  Joy is not a perky denial of suffering, but the freedom and confidence born of the knowledge that God’s answer to death is not optimism but resurrection.

God is good.

Even on a bad day.