Joy in a Minor Key


The holiday season is almost upon us, like a sweaty dog. The Christmas lights and jingly songs blare their good cheer into the darkness, but they don’t seem to penetrate it. 

This year, we will decorate the tree together as a family, and I will try and snap pictures of my little boy looking angelic while hanging a straw star onto pine branches. (This seems to be more of a challenge as the years go on: he is more prone to making monster faces when there is a camera present. This, too, makes me smile). My family will gather at Christmas, and we will exchange gifts, eat far too much amazing food (and swear we will eat less next year), and watch the Queen’s speech, as we do every year in our home in South West England.

It holds comfort and joy. Christmas, for us, is a harmonious symphony, repeated every year with minimal variation. 

But for others, Christmas tunes have been punctured by the rattle of gunfire; the devastating news of an unwanted diagnosis; the death of a friend; or painful memories from the past. I cannot sing ‘Joy to the world’ in my head while there is a discordant bass line that’s thumping throughout the world. Syria, Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Mali. They hold such darkness that it is hard to remember there is a light that will overcome it. It is hard to sing ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ without picturing a refugee child, huddled and shivering, or the relatives of those killed in Beirut, comfortless, weeping.

My friend, writer Kath Cunningham, talks about joy ‘in a minor key’. If you’ve ever tried to play ‘Joy to the world’ in a minor key you’ll know how wrong it sounds. Just that extra semitone down can make all the difference. 

Sometimes life is like that. We have joy, but in a minor key. This life mixes up the best and beautiful with the ugly and evil of the world, and sometimes they play at the same time. 

As I approach Advent, the season of waiting and in-between, I want to be honest about the joy and the sorrow together. It doesn’t work to pretend that everything is okay when it is not; nor that everything is bad, because it isn’t. We have both. We have joy, but in a minor key. We have sorrow, but with a resolution into a major key.

As I approach Christmas, I want to remember the darkness of the world, and sit with those who are in mourning. But I will also light a candle and remember Jesus, the light who was not overcome by darkness. Whenever the world looks particularly dark, it is not a trivial thing to believe that evil will not have the last word. Faith can be an act of defiance and boldness. Lighting a candle does not solve anything, but it does help to refocus on the truth, and truth has power.

It takes discipline to reject both the jangly tunes and funeral march that this world offers, and listen out for a melody that encompasses redemption. This world holds pain; but it is not without hope.

There’s something about slowing down, lighting candles in the dark and listening to God in the silence that makes me hear that song once again: joy, in a minor key. But this time it sounds more beautiful. 


(Kath Cunningham’s Advent thoughts which inspired me are also worth reading.)


Tanya Marlow
Follow me
Latest posts by Tanya Marlow (see all)

13 thoughts on “Joy in a Minor Key

  1. YES! I feel this struggle, too. It is hard to sing about joy when so many are suffering but that is when we have to remember that joy is still coming, that the world is still broken though we have a Savior. Still so many need to find Him and His joy. “But I will also light a candle and remember Jesus, the light who was not overcome by darkness.” I think that is the beauty of advent, a light shining in the darkness all around us. My advent piece talks about an “in-between” as well. Lighting my candle in the US and yours in the UK. Two small lights pointing to His light…

    • Thanks so much for this, lovely Nicole. And oh my goodness I love stuff on the in-between messy bit – Advent is such a great time to consider these things.

  2. I like your word: discipline.
    It does take discipline to hold joy in our hearts while we know in our heads that suffering is on the agenda for much of the world. The new melody that emerges may be in a minor key, but I understand that the birds sing mostly minor, and their Composer sees all the world’s pain while inviting us into his presence for fullness of joy.

    • I love this comment so much, Michele – it read like poetry. Do birds sing mostly minor? I had no idea. I love that fact. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. Yes, thank you. We are definitely there this year. A mix of sorrow, pain, but also amazing joy. Joy in the eyes of my small children at this time of the year. Joy, and thankfulness for the moments we do have with each other and the Savior who gave us oh so much. Such a mixture of feelings in this broken world.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Meg, and for sharing your own snapshot of joy in a minor key. I love watching Christmas through the eyes of young children!

  4. Tanya,
    To me all of life seems to vacillate between joy being a minor key and a major key. Sometimes life turns ugly and it is really hard to hear the soft sound of joy. Thankfully we also have days that take us on whirlwind of unbound less joy. Most days waver between them both and often at the same point in time. Part of hope is reaching out to hear that minor key when life is trying to shout it down and doing a good job of it. It is somewhat alarming that we the ugly in our lives makes us appreciate the joy more. Our lives play out in an elaborate symphony of heartache, joy, sadness, laughter, trails, and triumphs.

    • Thanks so much, Mark, for this rich and thoughtful comment. I love the word ‘waver’ to describe how life seems to walk that tightrope between the differing emotions. It describes so much.

  5. “I want to remember the darkness of the world, and sit with those who are in mourning. But I will also light a candle and remember Jesus, the light who was not overcome by darkness.” This is what I want to do, too. Great post, Tanya! I love the part about your little boy “making monster faces!” And yes, they are fun, too. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.