In my last post, I spoke of learning to balance pain with joy; but, why joy and not happiness.
We rarely spoke of happiness in my house when I was a child. Maybe it is because we were not a happy family. Strained feelings and fractured relationships have that effect on a household. Ours was no exception. But, my mom was a strong stoic woman that had a way of putting things into perspective. Although she was not a warm person, she was trusted by all that knew her, and people were drawn to her reassuring strength. I can remember the times that I turned to her because I was upset or felt that one of the neighborhood kids was angry with me about something. She instructed me to not wear my heart on my sleeve, to put my feelings in my pocket, to ignore them or to let whatever was bothering me roll off my back like water off a duck. She often ended our comfort session by saying “if you are sad, you can get glad again” or “if they are mad, they can get glad again” depending on the situation. She made it seem so simple and matter-of-fact. For my mom, how you felt was a choice – a getting rather than a being. I can only imagine how dangerous feelings must have seemed to her because she appeared to make ‘making life make sense’ about how she chose to see her life; not how her life was. Her life looked to be about control and disciplined responses. For me, the idea of being glad felt strange and unattainable. But, Psalm 30:5 promises that joy comes in the morning and Psalm 51:8 longingly asks, “Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness.” I interpreted these words as anchoring my mother’s instructions to see past my circumstances for the good waiting on the other side that would erase the feelings I was experiencing; so as I stepped out on my own, I chose to internalize her thought-centered philosophy.
Sadly, as I look back over my life, I realize that there was a detaching message underlying that dispassionate outlook; one that has served me well in my fight to remain invisible; that gave me permission to live allusively and disengaged; however, one that also closed off my heart to the life and living happening around me. For me to grow and to become, it is critical that I give depth to the restrained perspective that my mom’s philosophy casts over my worldview and that I develop an open heart through which I can embrace the work of living. For me, the perspective that resonates in my spirit is joy.
When I think of being happy, I think of a transient experience: something happening to or around me that yields a pleasant, albeit temporary, feeling. The circumstances that seem to relate to creating happiness involve my relationships, my job or the current status of my life. Looking at where I have been in these areas over the years, it would be nice to be able to say that I have been happy; but, honesty requires that I admit that either ‘most of the time’ or ‘not always’ are more correct. The feelings that define the other times in my life are disappointment, sadness and anger – a dangerous roll-a-coaster of vulnerability that became too big to just roll off my back once acknowledged. Remaining detached turned off the roll-a-coaster until it stopped working. Going forward, happiness can no longer be my goal.
However, when I think of joy, I think of satisfaction, contentment and fulfillment. Joy leaves room for those times when things are not all they should be without giving rise to feelings of being cheated, hurt or discouraged. Joy is indeed a getting. It represents the conscious choice to be at peace regardless of your circumstances.
I spent a great deal of time with my mom before losing her several years ago and I watched her come to a place of joy – of getting glad. Each step of my journey now is teaching me about achieving gladness and joy; about being in control of my live without controlling everything in it. I have come to understand that finding joy is not the journey of a lifetime but a lifetime journey. I now embrace that journey with less inner turmoil and fear, greater awareness of myself and an ear attuned to listen for those inner sounds of joy.