I went out to mail a letter, and there it was; the first ripe tomato of the summer! Joy literally leapt into my throat, a gift of amazing grace. I found myself smiling in anticipation. Mentally savoring its promised pleasure I was reminded of the Scripture, “Tears flow in the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
One of each day’s little pleasures is lingering over my morning coffee while reading The Gettysburg Times. We are so blessed to have a local community oriented newspaper. And yes, the paper is often filled with accounts of school boards or township supervisors bickering over this or that, ongoing racial unrest, political grandstanding, COVID-19’s to mask or not to mask, sexual abuse arrests, pictures of gun toting nationalists, and other evidences of our rampart individualism. But, just having a local paper is an amazing privilege in this day and age.
That orangy-red tomato reminded me of an article in the AARP magazine “Happiness in Hard Times.” The subhead read, “Research shows that joy is wired into our genes, brain circuits, and biology — an integral part of our health equation. And in moments like these it matters more than ever.” I took that as an affirmation of Scripture’s “in all things give thanks.”
We are hard-wired to grasp the fleeting magic of positive emotions the article pointed out, as my joy in that first tomato of the season. It went on to say happiness and it’s twin, gratitude, becomes vitally important when the going gets tough. Depression, anger, and grief limits our ability to cope with difficulty and despair. Happiness, on the other hand, helps create and sustain emotional resilience. Focusing on each tiny burst of positivity enables us to get through a crisis with a little more sanity and perspective.
Medical science documents how creating some meaning in our times of suffering and pain helps us heal and deal. Interestingly enough, we actually tend to be most grateful and positive in times of crises. We have this innate impulse to move past our differences in times of difficulty such as hurricanes, floods, fires, 9/11, even this pandemic. It is our times of suffering and crises that brings out our natural bent toward empathy and caring. It is by suffering ourselves that we become more sensitized to the suffering of others...which in turn allows us to discover pockets of joy in even the most difficult of situations and find solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
I don’t know about you, but life seems ever more precious and beautiful in this time of pandemic and political/racial unrest. The more aware I am that I am not guaranteed a tomorrow, the more I appreciate today’s fragile beauty. Even as I worry about the ills of the world, anticipating that tomato bursting on my taste buds helps put everything in perspective.
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.