Calling number one, part two. A slightly more cynical look at joy ;)

Friday, 30 August 2013

This is a long one. I’m sorry guys. Anyone want to be my editor and ruthlessly cut parts of my posts out for me? I promise I won’t cry when you correct my sentences and cut away the ramble. *

* Much. I won’t cry much.

Sometimes it’s easy to be joyful.

(Check out the two-coaster action. Pre-emptive strike?)

I was chilling in the garden yesterday. Feet up, book in hand, glass of water next to me (complete with lemon and strawberry slices, and ice – luxury!), the tree gently waving in the breeze above me. Complete perfection and peace.

Just as I started to wind down, I noticed something in the corner of my eye. It looked a bit like a cloud of dust erupting from the ground. I sat up to look closer and recoiled in disgust.


I hate flying ants, it has to be said. One of my sister’s favourite memories of me when I was little was of little tiny red-haired me, on ‘flying ant day’, ferociously bouncing my basketball up and down the path outside our front door.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Killing them,’ I replied, calmly. ‘KILLING THEM ALL.’

And so I was. Squashing them determinedly with every bounce. And probably humming creepily under my breath in the manner of little girls from horror movies.

My reaction to things not going the way I planned is not instant serenity and inner peace. It is usually anger. And sometimes bad words under my breath. Yesterday, it was shrieking and running inside as hundreds of them erupted at once, and wondering why on earth God created such disgusting and strange creatures, and why He designed them to all grow wings and hatch simultaneously, making a horrible, squirming, glittering mass, only to have them die hours later.

This is obviously not really a problem. It was a tiny little glitch in my day that was soon forgotten when I became absorbed in my book on the sofa instead, tucked safely away from gross little creatures. But sometimes life throws you curveballs that range from frustrating to the utter breakdown and turnaround of your life. And what then? What do you do with worry and sorrow and grief, when the Bible commands you to be joyful?

Joy in the face of trials. It’s the last type of joy I’ve been thinking about, and the most difficult.

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the resting of your faith develops perseverance.’ – James 1:2

Does anyone else find that jaw-dropping? These early Christians were being persecuted. Stoned or beaten to death. They boldly declared their faith despite the obstacles, had trial after trial, and they still managed to find joy while it happened.

It’s the strength of the words that get me. ‘Consider it pure joy.’ Pure joy? In the midst of suffering?

All I know is that when I am worried, or stressed, or something is going on in my life to disturb the equilibrium, I am just about able to hang on to the notion that God can do something, that there will eventually be a lesson learnt from this. Is gritting my teeth and getting on with it the same as considering my circumstances to be ‘pure joy’? How do you get the balance right? How do you achieve joy when really you’re struggling to hold everything together?

Chris and I generally spend way too much time immersed in pop culture. The geekier the better, usually. A year or so before we got married, we were heavily into Millennium, a TV series created by Chris Carter. We actually found it pretty heavy going (kind of depressing and dark) and had to take breaks from it every now and then because it was too much, but they had the occasional silly episode. There was this one episode where some guy became involved in a weird cult of some kind (I think, anyway. It’s been a while), and he became unbelievably happy in a slightly deranged way, and every bit of bad luck that came to him was cause for celebration.

Anyway. This guy had the perfect opportunity to shoot one of our heroes, but as he went to do it, his gun went ‘click’ and nothing happened. Instead of screaming in frustration, he beamed broadly and said:

‘Alright! My gun jammed!’

Wow, that took a long time to explain. But we found it hilarious at the time and we quote it a lot. ‘Alright! My gun jammed!’ immediately brings to mind that blind, foolhardy, determined happiness in the face of something bad.

I see that in Christians sometimes. This determination to see the good in everything no matter what’s going on, and an almost prideful way of hiding their true feelings from everybody else. As long as everything is okay on the outside. As long as we keep going to church and everybody thinks we are okay and we keep telling ourselves we are happy, then it’s okay. Even if we’re praying for something and nothing is happening and it’s really wearing us down, as long as we keep pretending we’re happy at all costs, it’s okay.

Does that sound harsh? I hope it doesn't. I'm the same, sometimes. I block out the difficult bits of life rather than deal with them, I keep things to myself, I pretend everything’s fine-and-dandy when it isn't. And I'm not suggesting we go around wallowing in misery all the time. I just don't like to pretend it doesn't exist.

I know people that do this almost constantly, and you can tell the difference between someone who has joy and contentment in their heart, and someone that is putting a smile on and pretending that it’s okay. Years ago, I was unemployed, miserable, and desperate for a job. An opportunity came up in a Christian bookshop and I was going to apply for it. A well meaning family member said about this, with a big smile, ‘Oh, yes! This job is for you! We claim this job for you in the name of Jesus.’ So determined was she to see me in this job that I don’t think it occurred to her that God might have other plans for me (which He did).

She wanted the best for me, which I appreciate. In her mind, the best was this job. So she ‘claimed’ it. Did I get it? No. Did that knock my faith? Not really. I was balanced enough to see that maybe God had other ideas and that we’re only human and all that. But it did make me question the notion of ‘claiming’ things for ourselves when we don’t know for sure whether or not they belong to us, and the balance between claiming what God has promised for you, and letting Him take control of your life. And do you know what? We never spoke about the fact that I didn't get the job. An unanswered prayer swept under the carpet.

Do we talk enough as Christians about how hard life is sometimes? About how much we’re struggling? Is there a place for it? We are commanded to consider trials as pure joy. Are we expected, then, to put a smile on and pretend we’re happy? Or do we embrace pain – and the unity it can bring, the way that grief or stress can bring families and communities closer together – and feel that pain, without feeling we’re letting the side down? Do we allow enough understanding of that feeling of, despite circumstances being fine or blessed, things not being quite right? Do we allow enough room for people to be exhausted? Bored? Do we talk about it? Do we accept it as part of life and help each other through it?

I for one don’t want to live a fake life. One where people think I'm perfectly happy all the time and that God has taken care of all my problems and now I live on a cloud. Because that’s not true. Life with God can actually be really difficult.

The key difference for me is between the word ‘feel’ and ‘consider’. In James, it doesn't say ‘Feel pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds’. It says ‘consider it’.

Maybe there’s a reason for that word. ‘Consider’. Maybe – in answer to my earlier question – teeth-gritting and hoping that one day something good will come of this trial, is considered ‘considering’. Maybe that’s enough.

Or maybe joy is something different. Maybe joy comes from determination as well as feeling. Maybe it is cultivated in us, over time. Maybe it’s something ancient and deep that goes beyond our understanding, that is something to do with God’s work in us.

One last thing. Two days ago I was about to get in the bath and stood in front of the mirror just before I got in. Two thoughts came into my head, and they were very clear. One was ‘I am about to have this baby.’ (‘About’ could mean anything. It could mean three or four weeks yet. But my body just looked different to me. I felt so sure of it). The other was, ‘I am beautiful right now’.

I rarely think that about myself, believe me. I wasn't looking like model material at the time. I was all sweaty, my hair had curled up weird, I was aware of how deep and raw my stretch marks looked. I just believed it about myself, and it wasn't the kind of ‘I'm glowing, my skin looks great’ beauty. It was something deeper, somehow older, bigger than my own superficial expectations of what I want to look like. The deep and inner beauty that comes from being blessed by God, by carrying a life. I still felt this layer of criticism about myself, but it somehow faded a little in that moment, making way for a kind of grittier, stronger, truer beauty instead.

Does that make sense? In my hippy way, I guess I'm saying that I think some things go deeper than emotions. Some words mean more than just feelings. Words like ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ and ‘beauty’ go much deeper than fleeting emotions. They mean something more permanent. They are old words.

So in that case, maybe it’s easier to understand how the early disciples could be beaten and tortured and still maintain that joy (Easier to understand – not necessarily easier to bear myself). Because they knew what that word really meant. They knew it had something to do with God and His plans for them. They knew the bigger picture.

Maybe I’ll write about this again sometime. Maybe I’ll look into it deeper. For today, though, I think I’ve exhausted my brain. Congratulations if you’ve read this far J

1 comment:

  1. My beautiful friend, you are indeed that - beautiful and your words never cease to challenge and inspire me!! This is just what I needed to be reminded of right now as I walk into this new season, so thank you. Love you xxx


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