“Even when it makes no sense to sing, louder then I’ll sing Your praise…” (“Even When It Hurts” by Hillsong UNITED)

I’m an interesting paradox of a planner yet a creative at heart. So naturally, my 2017 started off with a plan in the form of a spiritual theme for myself for the year: Joy Outpoured. December 31st rolled around, and I was ready. I was happy with my job, my friends, and my faith community in New York. Things were going well. So I wanted to focus on outpouring joy for others in 2017. A victory lap after a season of sorrow.

Well, as usual, God had other plans (I like to picture Him shaking His head at me with a gentle, wry smile). A few days into the New Year, I found out that one of the young teens I had worked with committed suicide. On top of that, it seemed like I was being thrown piece after piece of bad news. My heart was breaking and grieving for my friends, my family, the teens I serve, and everything going on in the world. I was feeling anything but joyful, and outpouring that joy for others seemed impossible. I prayed, “God, how could I possibly be joyful right now? I know joy isn’t rooted in happiness, so teach me what joy is. I want to praise You.”

Wait. I stopped. That was the key. Praise.

If I truly trusted God is who He says He is, why would I stop praising Him even though my heart was hurting? You see, God works in all things for our good. All things. All. He says it Himself over and over again in Scripture: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

His goodness doesn’t change for a second just because our circumstances change. Our identities as His sons and daughters don’t change. Our God is a good, good Father, a redeeming Son who knows what it is to suffer like us, and the Holy Spirit whose name is Comforter and Advocate. Is not He worthy of praise?

I think our most authentic, heartfelt praise can come from the cry of our wounded hearts when we realize just how much we need God. When we allow ourselves to surrender to His goodness, our praise unlocks the Father’s heart, and He pours down graces upon us. I learned that praise doesn’t have to be happy and filled with ecstasy, but praise can be singing a song to the Lord in my kitchen with tears streaming down my face. Praise can be a quiet, desperate whisper of, “Yes, Lord, even in this I trust You.” I decided to praise Him because things didn’t make sense, because I was hurting in unimaginable ways, because I need Him.

He is so much bigger and greater than any sorrow out of fierce, immeasurable love for us. There is a beautiful surrender in praising Him when things hurt so much, because we acknowledge that He is God and He is good. He is taking care of our hurting loved ones and our own hurting hearts so intimately. He covers us completely with His tenderness. So we praise Him.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas exhibit this perfectly. As they proclaimed the Gospel in Philippi, they got thrown in jail, put in the innermost cell with their feet tied to a stake. Instead of giving into despair, they were up at midnight, “praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened,” and then, “there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose” (Acts 16:25-26). Our authentic praise changes things. Our prayer changes things. We give God permission to step into situations we can’t seem to find answers for.

Praise is not contingent on us in our current situation; it’s contingent on who He is. So let’s raise our hearts and our hands and hands to God, praising Him from the depths of our souls, knowing that He is love and goodness itself and that He is fighting all of our battles.

“If you want to fight the darkness, praise the Lord.” –Br. Malachy, CFR