I am not an expert on virtual schooling. There is no such person. Virtual schooling is something different from online education, which has existed for a while. Virtual schooling, or at least the way everyone is doing it now, didn’t exist in the U.S. for the most part before three to four weeks ago. It is truly remarkable to me that, by God’s grace, Christian schools all over the country have essentially created a whole new form of educating kids, all in a months’ time.

This has been an extraordinary season for Christian schooling, a season that none of us could have imagined just three weeks ago. If you had told me I would have been shutting down our school and going to a virtual learning platform two weeks ago, I’d have told you you’re out of your mind. And, it transcends education; education is a drop in the bucket. Innovation and change is occurring everywhere. It’s remarkable to me how fast the world changed, faster than any time in my remembrance since 9/11, and more dramatically for our schools and for us as leaders than that time.

We have all been through, and continue to go through, a season of global trauma, and we are all grieving what we have lost. I read an article by Andy Crouch and others yesterday called Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization is Now a StartUp, suggesting that we’re in for an 18-month mini “ice age”, rather than a small storm, one that will fundamentally change the way we all do business. Others suggest that several things, like virus testing with result times in minutes rather than days may keep us from quarantining people for weeks, and advances already showing in treating the virus, will be game-changers, and will put us in a very different position just weeks or months from now.

When this kind of uncertainty creates individual trauma, to finances and health, and emotions, and relational strains, I think we’re all in need of a little joy in our lives, and to remember what God tells us about grief and joy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what John Piper calls “serious joy” lately.  What do these passages from the NT have in common?

  • “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” -Heb 10
  • “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials…” James 1
  • “When others revile and persecute you, be glad…” Mt. 5
  • “They rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.” Acts 5
  • “We rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces character, and character endurance, and endurance, perfect love.” Rom. 5
  • “in a severe test of affliction, their joy overflows in an abundance of generosity.” 2 Cor 8
  • “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake.” 1
  • “Rejoice, even though now for a little while you grieve…” 1 Pet. 1

As Piper notes, each one of these passages speak to a fundamental truth of our faith-that joy is not only possible in the midst of sadness and suffering, grief and mourning, but it is an expected part of life in Jesus.  Sorrow and joy are meant to be simultaneous, not sequential, not one then the other, but both, together, simultaneously. We’re meant to feel joy at all times, when circumstances around us are objectively pleasant or very, very unpleasant.

And, here’s another thing: joy and happiness are not scripturally two separate concepts. Scripture doesn’t separate out the two ideas. There’s no such thing, biblically, as being downcast and joyful. I’ve been guilty of that in the past, of thinking of joy and happiness as two separate things, believing that happiness is somehow ephemeral and circumstantial, while joy is some kind of deep-rooted contentment, separate from how I feel in the moment.

The truth is joy is deep-rooted contentment, but it should also be manifested in happiness, meaning a deep sense of personal well-being.  Otherwise, happiness would just be cultural, would just be taking my sense of well-being from my circumstances, from the things that happen around me. If that were true, it would be what Piper calls “second-hand joy”, and it would be bound up in people and things and not Jesus. Joy and happiness are a gift from Jesus.

I’ve read all the news you have, and had all the same concerns. Our family business lost one of our biannual shows this year due to the virus, a significant source of our family income.  I’m not too worried about getting sick myself, but the impact of the virus on our school families, on you, on our teachers, on our church community, and on our community at large weighs deeply and heavily on my soul. I get cabin fever like all the rest of you, and wonder what new restriction will be placed on our lives next. And, what the heck is the obsession with toilet paper?

And, yet…

At the same time, since I haven’t been traveling all over America, I’ve walked around my neighborhood, instead, visiting and having an opportunity to show care and concern for my neighbors. I’ve been a better neighbor and friend to those who live around me in the past three weeks than I have in the past three years.  My children have all moved back in my home, working and schooling, and we’re eating dinner around the table, talking and laughing and having deep conversations about Jesus again. I have a chance to build into them that I would not have had if the Lord had not hit the pause button on all our lives. I’ve had a chance to appreciate what matters, and realize all the things I was doing that didn’t really matter. And, I’ve been prompted to tell people I love them and what they mean to me more than I have in a good long while. Most importantly, I’ve pressed more deeply into Jesus than in recent memory, and those times have been sweet and good.

The Coronavirus Era has been really scary so far, and it’s also been really, really great for my soul. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so grieved and so happy at once.

It’s okay to feel happy and laugh and enjoy each other, even when the coronavirus is ravaging its way through culture, assuming that’s what it’s actually doing. It’s not only okay, but it’s a truly Christian response. It’s okay for people to think you’re crazy; in a way, you are. You live in a way that’s madness to the world around you, who doesn’t think how you think, whose ways are not your own. Embrace it, and realize that the grief and sorrow will be distant memory years from now, while the joy will remain.

Jay Ferguson, PhD, Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org