This blurry picture means the world to me. When a friend sent this to me after we came home with our son, I cried tears of deep joy and gratitude. These precious people you are seeing the backs of, with many more not in the frame, erupted in celebration as we walked through the doors of baggage claim…finally home. Our family of two officially a family of three. It was a moment long-awaited, prayed for without ceasing, two trips across an ocean, thousands of dollars in paperwork and travel costs, so much unknown navigated imperfectly. These people threw up their hands in celebration, cheered loudly, cried happy tears, hugged us tightly, because they walked with us through the waters of fear, lament, faith, obedience, providence, and tons of prayer. They heard our voices crack in the long distance phone calls and emails when we weren’t sure this moment would even come. They gave sacrificially when we needed help. They listened silently and prayed continuously, even when they didn’t fully understand. This beautiful, fuzzy photo is the definition of celebration as a spiritual discipline.
I had a growing feeling before 2020 even began that I needed to tip-toe around celebration. As last year progressed, I saw the online space also go to a place I could no longer be a part of in this season. Over the years, social media has gone through a series of transformations. It went from only sharing the best parts of your life, presenting a false sense of perfection, to sharing the more real, raw, authentic versions. In addition to the food photos and pumpkin patch family pictures, people also started sharing their stories (my favorite thing). Women stepped forward and shared their journeys of infertility or healing after divorce. In the adoption world, we saw the beauty of the triad as more birth mom and adoptee voices rose up. Even for the mom to share a picture of her messy house was welcomed and celebrated as real. This authenticity then moved to a more…demanding version where perfect strangers felt entitled to pry into deeply personal details, or roll their eyes in comment form to let someone know how unauthentic and unattainable someone else was being. Suddenly, the mom who just loves art and home design isn’t being “real” when she shares her curated house that brings her joy. It got weird to be honest as I found myself in this trap with people I didn’t even know, and I think part of it was no one was drawing good boundaries for this type of sharing on the internet (myself included for awhile). But then last year, things took a dark turn. We went from sharing false perfection, to authenticity, to demanding our own versions of “real,” to not being allowed to share anything good. I watched as people tore each other apart in this place touted to build “connection.” If someone wanted to celebrate something good, there were swift reminders of all that is not good, and how insensitive to be sharing such things in “unprecedented times!” I watched as a woman going through a very public divorce simply shared a post about five things she was grateful for despite the incredibly difficult season, and the comment section was ripping her to shreds. To many this simple post of gratitude was “throwing it back in their face” that her state was open, and how dare she be gathering with people outside her household not 6 ft. apart, and doesn’t she know there are so many other bigger and more important issues going on right now? I felt that pressure, having to put a disclaimer on my son’s birthday post, not sharing when we snuck away to Colorado for a long weekend, not showing the absolute cuteness and joy when my son got to see his best friends for the first time in weeks. So many sweet, joy-filled moments I wanted to share, that were worth celebrating, but kept hidden. Because moments of celebration had been transformed into this bad thing-personally throwing back in someone else’s face (that you likely don’t even know), and they were going to let you know about it. I felt like celebration was simply no longer allowed.
Celebration Is A Spiritual Discipline
The month of January I did this study that walked through, day by day, different spiritual disciplines. There were many that made sense to me: Prayer, meditation & memorization, fasting, obedience, the “typical” ones. As I turned the page to start week three, I was honestly a bit surprised to see the word Celebration. I never thought of this as a spiritual discipline. Something that’s good yes, something that you see in Scripture, yes, but as a discipline, something to practice over and over that furthers your relationship with Christ? I never thought of it that way. I absolutely loved the definition given in this study:
“The practice of acknowledging and rejoicing in beauty, goodness, and truth.”-Faith In Practice Study, She Reads Truth
As I read the Scriptures that showed this celebration as discipline, here were some of my initial observations:
- The study of celebration as a spiritual discipline came after the study of lament as a spiritual discipline. I don’t think it was structured this way as a coincidence, since majority of the Scriptures showed that the person’s celebration was a response that came after a season of lamentation
- Celebration is an act of worship, and it can look many different ways! Sometimes celebration looked like dancing in the street undignified (2 Sam. 6:14-15). Sometimes it looked like rushing to see the Savior (Luke 2). Other times it looked like throwing a great party and feasting with delight (Luke 15: 22-24).
- My biggest observations turned revelation, were these two things I wrote down in my notes after I read, because it was as if a lightbulb went off in my brain. I noted, “Our celebration & rejoicing in the Lord will be repulsive to some (2 Samuel 6:16),” and “Our celebration & rejoicing in the Lord will make others angry (Luke 15:28).”
When Celebration Becomes Offensive
Suddenly, thanks to the Holy Spirit, it made sense why I felt like I couldn’t celebrate. Because it was clear to me we actually see this several times in Scripture. When there is celebration, you also see that someone is personally offended by it. When David was dancing and rejoicing uncontrollably when the Ark of the Covenant returned, it struck me when it said Saul’s daughter looked down at him from the window and despised him in her heart (2 Sam. 6:16). She was straight up disgusted by his celebration. When the prodigal son returned home in confession and humility, everyone celebrated except for his big brother. It said he became angry and refused to go in (Luke 15:28). I think of when the Wise Men came to celebrate the Savior. After weeks of traveling, when they saw the star again that hovered over where Christ was, they celebrated and rejoiced. This was after they had gone to King Herod, who was so troubled by this, he literally killed thousands of first-born boys under the age of two searching for this new King (Luke 2). When the Israelites’ freedom came after 400 years of slavery, they celebrated greatly on their way out of Egypt. But it didn’t take long for Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened again, so much so that he gathered his army and chased after them, ready to recapture them (Exodus 14). These might seem like extreme responses to celebration, but just look at things like our modern day cancel culture. The fact of the matter is, your celebration will likely be personally offensive to someone else for whatever reason.
You see, this moment of celebration that I am sharing with you, an incredibly important moment for our family, I’m sure there were people in baggage claim that day that were offended, or at minimum annoyed by all of us. Our family and close friends waited for a couple of hours, a small crowd taking up space in the baggage claim area when they just want to get their stuff and go home or to their next destination after a tiring day of travel. After being crammed in an airplane for however many hours, the last thing they probably wanted to see was a bunch of people not claiming baggage in the baggage claiming area. This group also made a lot of noise when we came through those doors, and I’m sure in our celebration, we accidentally got in people’s way. Those around the perimeter of the situation, the total strangers…they didn’t understand this celebration. They didn’t get how HUGE of a moment this was. They didn’t see the whole journey (and truth be told the adoption journey really never ends), they were only seeing one tiny snippet, so it didn’t make sense.
In this study, there were reflection questions after each spiritual discipline. One of them was “How have you seen celebration modeled in a healthy way?” The first thing that came to my mind was this celebration at the airport, the day we came home. You see, I often say that in adoption and foster care, you have to hold the “both, and.” You have to hold the loss along with the gain, the pain along with the beauty in order to understand the depth of perspective. It is like holding ashes in one hand and beauty in the other. And after studying this, I believe it is also holding lament in one hand, and celebration in the other.
We lament that our son could not stay with his biological family. That is a loss we will always grieve with him. We also celebrate that he is in our family. That is a gain we will always rejoice in. People won’t always get it, in fact, some will probably be offended or even angered by it, and they will have their reasons. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate at all.
Celebrate the good
One of my favorite verses from this part of the study was:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”Romans 12:15
For the love of all things with the swinging pendulum of extremes in our culture right now, this Scripture is proof that we can do both. When there is good, we need to celebrate it, even if we don’t feel like it because we want that, and they got it first. When there is hurt, we also need to acknowledge and weep with our brothers and sisters, as Jesus did with his friends when Lazarus died. There are times and seasons, but we need to celebrate and rejoice in the good. It is a discipline, because the negative takes up far too much space in our brains and it is a vicious cycle. That is why we are told in Scripture:
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable-if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy-dwell on these things.”Philipians 4:8
Celebration is a discipline, rejoicing is a practice. And we can do that in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5: 16). We can always find the good. When we celebrate, we are acknowledging the goodness and faithfulness of the Giver (James 1:17). We need to get back to celebrating, and understand that not everyone will get it, but we shouldn’t stop celebrating out of fear of others’ responses. Doesn’t mean we should be insensitive, but the next time you feel personally attacked by someone else’s celebrating, use it as an opportunity to step back and ask yourself why? Is it triggering a hurt in you? Are you shaking your fist because of an unanswered prayer? Do you know the whole story? How would you feel if the first response to your own celebration was a critique? My encouragement to myself and to you is to get back to celebration. It doesn’t mean you are ignoring or negating the tough or bad things. Celebration, like lamentation, is a spiritual discipline. Find the people who will celebrate with you. Find ways to celebrate both the big and the small things in your family. Make it a part of your regular rhythm, and see what kind of transformation it brings.