Do You Ever Write Happy?

September 6, 2013

I had a friend ask me if I ever wrote anything happy. I had to laugh at this. I love my friends! The answer is, “Yes!” Joy is a part of my life too. In fact, I seldom think of joy and sorrow as separate things- when one sits by your bed, the other waits down the hall.

One thing I learned about myself in the journey of the last several years is that different personalities process experiences very differently. We are motivated by different sources and we respond to events from different parts of who we are. I’ve learned that my particular personality is one that tends to be quite reflective and sometimes borders on being a bit too serious. I work on intuition and can read a room or a person pretty immediately and pretty accurately, but due to leaning on intuition, it can be harder for me to articulate how I come to  conclusions. I tend to believe that my best work- writing, preaching, conversation, music, or whatever the medium- is done by tapping into the places that push me to the deepest reflection or confusion. It’s just my way of connecting and communicating. And having known the isolation of that that experience, I write so that others might say, “me too!” and maybe for a moment, they don’t feel so disconnected as they are sorting through their own journey.

But joy is part of it too! In fact, joy is a huge part of what shapes my life. I find joy in the smile of my son- his little face lighting up when he thinks something is funny, his silliness when someone comes to visit, his sheer excitement when he wakes up in the morning no matter how poorly he slept. I also find myself curious about that joy- since child-like joy is so difficult for many adults to find. It seems almost other-worldly to experience the wonder of the world through the eyes of a toddler. I love it, but I’m shaken by it too.

I find joy when I am getting to fulfill my calling in as faithful a way that I can. I was just driving back from a pastors meeting yesterday and the most inexplicable sense of joy was so present in my car after having stimulating conversation- which believe me, is a rarity for pastors… I’m serious- and getting to connect with colleagues.

I find joy in the quiet when night has fallen and the stars emerge and it’s as though while every human has pulled inward for the evening, God’s presence is most powerfully active.

I find joy when I hear feel my Father’s pleasure.

But joy is such a strange thing for me. I suppose if my personality was one that motivated less by intuition and the desire to “see behind” everything, and more by joy and reveling in the moment, it would not be strange. That must be a wonderful gift for some people. But for me, joy is a strange thing. Because joy always comes with a reality- that unless we are like children, we really only know the depths of joy in relation to depths of pain. For me, when I have faced the hardest stuff that my life has endured as of yet, it makes joy sweeter and more powerful. I don’t really know joy without the backdrop of loss. I don’t really understand joy without the bedfellow of sorrow. I personally need that dichotomy to comprehend it. Others may not.

I write right now because I have finally found words to the deep experiences of the last several years. Before now I could state the facts, but not the meanings. God has been churning up in me the thoughts and reflections from seasons of my life that needed the space of silence in order to grow. I mentioned this here. Now that they have grown, they have put on flesh in the form of language. In fact, with their growth comes a deeper connection to the reality that even in the darkest corner of the darkest place of the darkest valley, God is still there. And even when there is no room for anything other than the suffocating stench of sorrow that clutches at our throats and cuts off all life, God is there. And I believe that God has a depth to him that includes his deeply divine anguish for pit of isolation and sadness, while also at the same measure, he holds the lightness and completeness of joy.

Simply because we are not experiencing it at the moment does not mean joy doesn’t exist (how’s that for a triple negative sentence, editors!). It simply means our view is too short. And understandably, expectedly so. Too often people equate faith to seeing “the silver lining in the clouds,” “looking on the bright side,” and “it could always be worse; you could be starving in another country.” Those are not necessarily untrue, and practicing perspective is not necessarily a bad practice; but I don’t equate that to faith. I see faith in the midst of darkness like this: that we still believe joy exists, even if it doesn’t for the moment exist in us. Maybe it is more an act of faith to fully alive in the moments of grief and loss, than to endure the wishful thinking of a happier day. Could it be that in our grief, when we fully enter it and explore it and grieve it, we find a joy that cannot be known except by those who dare enter the dark valley for all it is?

One of my coping mechanism for almost any stress or chaos is my life is information. If I can be informed I can feel better about things. If I had more of a knack for math and statistics, I would probably be a scientist. But my “science” is theology and ministry and God. None of these is easily boiled down to statistics and math and chemicals and other science-y things. So the study of these things is my coping mechanism. When I entered into the dark valley in late 2008, I did what I normally do to try to create homeostasis (ooo- science word!) for my life… as though I could indeed create homeostasis at all. I laugh at the thought now. But I did what I could to find meaning, to understand. And I used the mediums of my practice- prayer, disciplines, and the Scripture. While I studied, I came across the passage declaring that Rachel was weeping for her children and would not be comforted. I immediately felt a kinship to Rachel. But why? Why would she not be comforted? It does not say she “could not be comforted.” It says, she would not be comforted. Implied is a deliberateness on her part. A choice to remain grieving. I was captivated by this. In a culture, indeed in my own small community that at that time was around me, this would not be tolerated. No! Joy! Remember there’s joy! And yes, it’s true: we do not grieve as those who have no hope. But having hope does not necessarily make grief easier. In fact, sometimes, it makes it harder- as a little widow woman taught long ago after she had buried her husband years before and still grieved him, knowing she would see him again, but also feeling like he was in a place somewhere and she knew it, and it was excruciating to wait knowing he was somewhere so close to her and yet she couldn’t wrap her arms around him. Having hope doesn’t eclipse grief. We would do well to learn this.

Rachel refused to be comforted. Why? I came across a Jewish writing that spoke about her weeping as a sign of faith. She would not be comforted until God himself showed up. She wept to protest, to demand wholeness, to insist on God making right what he says he will make right. This may not be popular for many of us to hear, but there’s a solid faith in her refusal to give up her grieve and “choose joy.” I believe that in her faithful act of protest, she believed in the God of joy, perhaps deeper than we may realize. Maybe joy is something deeper than we know. Even in the darkness, even in our refusal to fake our joy, God is. And with him comes the ability to hold both sorrow and happiness at the same time. That’s how the sweetness of joy becomes something in us that is solid, more solid than the fleeting ways we tend to view it.

Yet, my life is filled with joy. And I do write about it, and will continue to. The joy is spurned on by the practice of gratitude, and I have much to be thankful for. My life is filled with joy. And in the same instance, it is filled wonder. And worry. And angst. Probably like most people. And I have learned to hold each of these experiences with loose hands… because as whole people, they can change in a moment.  God is present is still. Even when we can’t see him or the joy he brings.

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