Max Lucado: Can you find joy in despair?

Amanda Todd became an unwitting spokesperson for despair at the age of fifteen after a predator had convinced her to pose topless for a photo, and then posted it online. With one keystroke, Amanda became a laughingstock.

Already a fragile and private person, she retreated even further. She avoided friends, stayed home. Still, she couldn’t escape the texts, calls, and stares. She changed schools, but the mockery followed. She descended into drugs and alcohol, and began cutting herself. She attempted suicide. Finally, in an act of desperation, she posted a nine-minute video on YouTube. Using flash cards, she recounted her months of horror, shame, and despair. One month after posting the video, she succeeded in taking her own life.

Does God have hope for someone like Amanda Todd?

Self-help manuals might get you through a bad mood or a tough patch. But what about an abusive childhood or a debilitating accident or years of chronic pain or public ridicule? Does God have a word for the dark nights of the soul?

He does. The promise begins with this phrase: “Weeping may last through the night” (Ps. 30:5 nlt).

Of course, you knew that much. Weeping may last through the night, and the next night, and the next. This is not new news to you, but this may be: “Joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5 nlt). Night might delay the dawn, but it cannot defeat it. Morning comes. And with it comes joy.

Do you need this promise? Mary Magdalene did.

In the forest of the Bible, she was the weeping willow. She had seven demons (Luke 8:2). Maybe she’d been abused, abandoned. Perhaps she was a recluse or a prostitute. The number seven is sometimes used in the Bible to describe completeness. It could be that Mary Magdalene was completely consumed with troubles.

But then something happened. Jesus stepped into her world and when he spoke, the demons fled. From that day forward, everywhere Jesus went, Mary Magdalene followed. She heard him teach. She saw him perform miracles. She helped pay his expenses. She was always near Christ, even at his crucifixion.

On that Friday, Mary Magdalene watched Jesus die.

On Saturday, she observed a sad Sabbath.

When Sunday came, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to finish the work she had begun when they lowered Jesus from his cross. She knew nothing of the empty tomb. She came with no other motive than to prepare his body for burial and say goodbye.

When she arrived at the tomb, the nightmare of the last three days grew even darker. Mary Magdalene “saw that the stone had been taken away” (Jn 20:1 nkjv). Assuming that grave robbers had taken the body, she hurried to find Peter and John.

They ran to the tomb, found it empty, then left to tell the rest of the disciples on what they had seen. We expect the camera lens of the gospel to follow them. After all, they were apostles, future authors of epistles. But, it doesn’t. The story lingers with Mary.

Her face was awash with tears. Her shoulders heaved with sobs. “As she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” (vv. 11–12 nkjv).

Mary Magdalene mistook the angels for men. She had no reason to think angels would be in the tomb. Bone diggers? Maybe. Caretakers? Possibly. But her Sunday was too dark to expect the presence of angels. Her world had officially hit rock bottom.

Have you ever had a moment like this? A moment in which bad news became worse? In which you came looking for God yet couldn’t find him?

Maybe Mary Magdalene’s story is your story. If so, you’re going to love what happened next. In the midst of Mary’s darkest moment, the Son came out.

“Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” (vv. 14–15 nkjv)

She didn’t recognize her Lord. So Jesus did something about it. He called her by name, and when he did, Mary recognized the voice that had first called her to freedom. In the time it took for Jesus to say “Mary”, her world went from hopeless to hope-filled. Of all the people to whom he could have spoken, Jesus went first to Mary- the weeping, heartbroken woman who once had seven demons.

Why her? As far as we know, she didn’t become a missionary. No epistle bears her name. Perhaps, Jesus wanted to send a message to all the heavyhearted people: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5 nlt).

Watch for it. Expect it as you would the morning sunrise or the evening twilight. Keep coming to Jesus. You’ll be tempted to give up and walk away. But don’t. Even when you don’t feel like it, keep walking the trail to the empty tomb. Open your Bible. Meditate on Scripture. Sing hymns. Talk to other believers. Place yourself in a position to be found by faith, and listen carefully. That gardener very well might be your redeemer.

Darkness comes, but so does the morning. Sadness comes, but so does hope. Sorrow may have the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Max Lucado is a San Antonio pastor and best-selling author. His upcoming book is "Unshakable Hope: Building Our Lives on the Promises of God" (Thomas Nelson, August 2018). Visit his website at www.MaxLucado.com. Follow him on Twitter @MaxLucado.