FOR THE ONE WHO FEELS DISQUALIFIED FROM CELEBRATION
We often think of celebration as the reward waiting for us on the other side of a good outcome. We are waiting for a reason to celebrate and picture our joy as a prize to be enjoyed after the realization of a dream, the achievement of a goal, or some sort of shift in our circumstances.
But what happens when the outcome is different than the one we hoped for? How can we celebrate when we fall short of the goal, the reality looks nothing like the dream, our circumstances remain very much the same, or we receive devastating news?
As a therapist and author of my new book, What If It’s Wonderful? I’m often asked, “What does celebration look like for those who are suffering?”
I was personally confronted with this question a few weeks ago when on a Tuesday that should have been ordinary, our community experienced a sudden tragedy. In my shock and grief, I was curious about the fact that I found myself drawn to the water’s edge, pacing the Connecticut shoreline and searching for sea glass, which is my favorite thing to do when I’m just being quiet with God.
Our beach is a bit of a mixed dish: sand, rocks, broken shells, just a little bit of trash, and sea glass. But stepping over kelp that looks like large chocolate-brown lasagna noodles, my eyes were trained for shades of Kelly green, amber, cobalt and aqua blues, and frosted white. As the colored glass — smoothed by the salt and sand — collected in my pocket, I reminded myself of what is true and good about God. Even on a Tuesday like this one.
How do we celebrate when we don’t feel like rejoicing? We remember.
The Bible discusses several feasts and festivals celebrated by God’s people. Each of these celebrations outlined in scripture occurred in rhythm, not in response to the people’s achievement but in remembrance of God’s constant faithfulness in their lives. God’s people celebrated each festival not because they felt that they had earned the feast or because they were in the mood to celebrate but because it was time to do so. Celebration was a rhythmic response to God’s goodness, not reaction to their own.
Celebration was a rhythmic response to God’s goodness, not reaction to their own.
Even Sabbath didn’t come as a reward for the week’s accomplishments. A day of rest wasn’t simply the result of exhaustion from the past week. It was, and continues to be, a structure of celebration that invites us to release our grip on control and step into God’s gracious rhythm instead. Celebration starts when it starts, reminding us that regardless of our current circumstances or emotional state, we will experience joy when we celebrate God. These rhythms and rituals were never designed to be the hope that saves us, but rather the celebration that ushers us toward the hope of Christ, where joy will always be found.
This rhythm of remembrance is our invitation to celebrate who God is, what He has done, and the many ways He continues to move in our lives. These recollections are the footholds that help us understand our place in God’s story — a much bigger story than the one that centers on our own striving.
Celebration is not an exclusive club for the lucky few. If you’re hurting or have found yourself in a season of waiting and longing, you don’t have to stand with your nose pressed up against the glass, looking in on a joy that many of us have assumed is reserved for those who experience a win or a breakthrough. Celebration’s welcome is wide. It’s available to you, right now, in this chapter of this story.
Because sometimes our celebration looks like loud rejoicing over good news or a shift in our situation. And sometimes it looks like quietly remembering truth about a God who doesn’t change.