But … what if what you know is too painful, too difficult, too private to write about?
Maybe they’d say that I should write it all down in a personal journal rather than in a public forum. And maybe they’d be right. Just keep expressing, keep trying, keep moving forward.
That’s not my story, though. When life got too difficult, too painful, too messy, I wouldn’t write anything. Not a darn thing. Well, maybe one or two things, but nothing that required me to dig in and peel back the fragile layers of my life and possibly bleed all over the poor soul who happened upon my words.
I admit: I’ve been holding out on you.
It’s sometimes a confusing tightrope to walk, this life of imperfect faith and so-called public platform. I strive to be “real” and “authentic” and “genuine,” with as little difference between how I am behind closed doors and when they’re open. But I also am a flawed human being, tied by sacrament and faith and birth to other flawed human beings. Respect for my dignity and theirs (and yours) means that, sometimes, I write around the things that are breaking my heart rather than fliging the thin veil aside for everyone to see.
The last thing I want this space to be is one where, in my brokenness, I damage relationships and possibly my heart and maybe even your heart as well. I have always, always intended this to be a place of encouragement and redemption.
And so I wait. I wait for it to stop being so painful and difficult. I wait for the sunshine to appear, burning off the months and months of frozen cold and dreary damp in my soul.
I wait for the redeeming wounds of the resurrected Christ to bind and heal my own tender wounds.
Because if there is one thing I can write with any semblance of authority and certainty today, it is that God is not finished with me yet. I know that He is guiding this healing, this transforming, this becoming.
I believe that my story–where Jesus Christ alone is glorified through every detail of my wild and blessed life–is being written, even if I can’t yet see the words.
Call it a mid-life crisis; call it a wake-up call.
Call it whatever you’d like, but I’ve been doing some pretty serious self-reflection and soul searching lately, and it’s been rather … unsettling.
An Incident occurred a week or so ago and caused me to weep, cry out to God, and reflect. And ponder and argue and wrestle. And cry some more. Far from the run-of-the-mill navel-gazing to which I occasionally fall prey, this situation – in light of many other situations – stopped me in my tracks.
It’s been during this time that I realized something that I’ve likely known for a while but was only able to articulate two days ago:
I have not been living as though I am made in the image and likeness of God. I have not been living according to His holy and perfect will.
Rather, I have been living in the image and likeness of my own ill-conceived creation – of who I think I should be – and especially of who I think others want or need me to be. I have been living mostly according to my own excruciatingly imperfect will.
And it has hurt me.
Quite a bit.
I have over committed and under delivered. I have fallen behind and not followed through. I have engaged with others without engaging first with God. I have created a mirage of perfect availability through my social media interactions, yet allowed flesh-and-blood relationships to falter.
In short, I have been living in a prison of my own design, a false reality where so many more things than necessary rely upon me and my superhuman goodnesss and my superhuman wholeness and my superhuman abilities … all of which don’t truly exist anywhere except in the bent recesses of my wounded mind.
Even more disturbingly, I realized that I have forgotten to sit, to submit, and to surrender to Him Who calls me to be made free and holy and whole.
I realized that I have been trying to save myself.
Without even fully understanding what I was doing, I put myself in the place of the One Who holds my life in His hands. I have put my own idea of who He wants me to be ahead of who He actually created me to be.
It’s pride, plain and simple, and it’s not without consequence. It’s a rare sort of ugly, friends, to live out of the unwitting belief that you’re in charge – that it’s up to you – that your way will save you.
I had the honor of writing the reflection at Blessed is She today, and I focused on the paradoxes of the faith – in giving we receive, in serving we lead, in dying we live – but events over the past weeks allow me to see the readings in a different light.
In today’s Gospel, James and John ask Jesus to give them something to which they have no rightful claim. Jesus responds to them: “You don’t know what you are asking.” And they insist that, indeed, they can take it – whatever “it” is. I can visualize their zealous, righteous indignation now: “We can do it, Lord. Whatever. BRING IT ON.” They press Jesus with their own agenda, their own plans, asking Him to accept them. And because He loves them, He allows these two with whom He’s journeyed to choose their own free will over His perfect version.
I’ve done that, too.
I’ve chosen my will over His. My vision over His. My desires over His. Like a petulant preschooler, I have insisted on eating a lollipop when what I really need is bread. I have thrown a fit in favor or endless hours of screen time when what I really need is to read a good book or write a good story. I have asked for a party with lots and lots of people when what I really needed was silence. With Him.
At its heart, this isn’t about me being too busy or too ambitious or too enthusiastic or too anything, really. It’s also not about me being undisciplined, unintentional, or unwieldy, although those things are definitely symptoms of a larger issue.
The truth is this: I can no longer survive by going my own way anymore – the way I think or the way others think. My way hurts. It hurts me, and it hurts others. And it has to stop.
May I have the courage and the strength to pray and believe and live:
Lord Jesus, not my will but Thine be done. Now and forever. Amen.
Here’s the one I’ve come to understand a little bit better this past month:
No sacrifice, no joy.
Now, it’s one thing to sacrifice something and experience pride because of it – and there’s nothing wrong with a healthy sense of pride over a job well done.
The joy I’m talking about, however, comes from an interior knowledge that you’re uniting the discomfort of your present circumstance with the Ultimate Suffering of Christ on the Cross.
This month, our church encouraged its parishioners to offer up extra prayers and sacrifices in honor of Respect Life month. Multiple crosses made from construction paper sat on a table in the narthex awaiting someone’s written description of their offering. Once complete, the crosses were affixed to a larger cross at the front of the church, making a beautiful collage of prayer to support the dignity of life.
I think there’s gotta be a rule about one’s sacrifice losing efficacy should one constantly grumble about it. Same with talking about one’s sacrifice with anyone who will listen. After all, “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).”
So I tried really hard not to do those things.
It’s honestly mind boggling that, even thirty days in to the month, I am still jonesing for soda or juice or milk or iced coffee. Mmmm. Coooffffeee.
The good news is, as best I understand it, that I’ve had way more opportunities to offer up my minor inconvenience and suffering (small ‘s’) for human life. And, hopefully, rather than being too proud of sticking to my promise, I’m taking it in stride, experiencing a deep sense of joy that comes from knowing that, even in my small way, I’ve entered in to the mystery of Christ’s redemptive suffering on the cross.
(And I’d be lying if I didn’t add that I’m excited about coffee on Sunday. C’moooon November 1st! Amen.)
Until tomorrow, may God bless y’all in His loving kindness.
This is my very first post in the 31-day writing challenge. By way of introduction, I thought I’d share my plans for filling this space over the next month. My intent was to touch on the following:
Definition of terms and some friendly catechesis – what is authentic joy, anyway, and where may it be found?
Comparison to happiness – what is the difference, and why does it matter?
Favorite select quotes about joy
Thoughts on (and perhaps pictures of) specific things that bring me joy
Ideas regarding how we can identify, cultivate, and savor joy in our everyday lives and
A few special guest posts on the topic for good measure
As today is the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower, I figured I would, in her honor, keep posts for this challenge short, sweet, and simple, sheerly as a survival mechanism, since writing consistently has never been my strong suit.
But a funny thing happened on my way to beginning this writing challenge about a topic almost universally regarded as “feel good” – an unexpected thing. I came up against a bunch of bumps, detours, and unabashed ugliness on my way to this post, and I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, feeling good.
It all began promisingly enough. I planned to begin today with community – meeting up with some friends and planting a seasonal flower pot to add some color and life to my cobwebby front porch. Sure, I would probably kill the thing in a week or three due to my trademark incompetence in growing anything other than babies, but at least I was ready. My husband kindly picked up a new pot for me when he was running errands yesterday, as none of our large planting pots made it through The Big Move last Fall.
But then my daughter woke with a low-grade fever and couldn’t go to school. Moms’ group was obviously a no-go for today. I tried to brush off the feelings of disappointment and decided to embrace the opportunity to stay home and tackle my lengthy to-do list in between parenting duties. “Everything is grace, right, St. Therese?” i asked. Yes. Everything.
What I failed to realize, however, was that my to-do list for today would soon contain an avalanche of challenges that felt like anything but grace or joy (in no particular order): facing disrespect, rejection, miscommunication, exhaustion, grief over a friend’s extraordinarily painful medical situation, the stress of several concurrent deadlines, did I mention physical and emotional exhaustion?, isolation, self-loathing, chronic back pain, cystic acne, children bickering, whining, and arguing, others’ indifference, project expectations, being so very publicly wrong, incessant boo-boos and toileting needs, considering inexplicable health concerns, shock over the mass murders just hours from here, at a place I’ve been many times, knowing I was letting people down, forgetting to follow through, learning that a former choir member whom I’d loved and admired passed away this week and I never had the opportunity to say, “good-bye.”
All of the above and several other things I’m not mentioning all happened in a single day – during this morning and the first part of this afternoon. I hadn’t even had the chance to make a second cup of coffee and I was just overwhelmed.
Riddle me this, dear reader – in the description of my seemingly godforesaken day, where is the joy? The inspiration to be informative, encouraging, and uplifting? Where?
For some of you, what I’ve described seems like a lot to bear. For others of you, perhaps these are the types of challenges you face each and every day. Still others are saying, “Pffft. That ain’t nothin’. Come live MY life for a minute.” If you are that person, and you’re ever within a 30-mile radius of my house, I will gladly buy you a cup of coffee and give you a hug and hope that you don’t pass out in front of me from sheer overload. Because, holy wow.
If you’re new here (and you’re still reading – GOD BLESS YOU), I’m telling y’all plainly, in case you haven’t picked up on it yet: I’m a hugely broken person. I am wounded, I am weak, and I am often worn out. I can, however, fake being strong for extended periods of time. I’ve been doing that on and off with varying success since birth. I can often push through once, twice, a hundred times before things start to visibly crack.The Lord knows I’m as stubborn as they come, and deep down, I have the heart of a warrior. But today? it’s been sort of hard to keep upright. Writing anything about joy, of all things, has felt very manufactured and inauthentic, and ain’t nobody got time for that.
I will tell you, however, as the shadows lengthen and I begin to wonder if I will ever have the courage to hit “publish” on this post what I do have time for, in this unexpected mess of a day – I have time for Jesus and what I promised Him I would do.
You see, I made a commitment to the Lord to write these posts about joy, my friend, and I intend to keep that commitment. I am not sure exactly what He has in mind for this space (especially after an intro such as this), but you know what? The thread of joy that remains within me right now is that of trusting in Him, trusting that He will take care of this mess – take care of me – because He has always has. He is trustworthy.
Jesus, I Trust in You. That, my friends, is my unexpected joy for today. Perhaps I should have expected it by now, but I didn’t.
Despite the storms. Despite the heartaches. Despite the twists and turns and the downs and outs. The spark of joy that remains and can acknowledge that, yes, St. Therese, for the soul that loves, all IS well. Because where there is love, there is God.
Jesus, I Trust in You.
Because the real joy is knowing that, while the waves may crash and thunder may roll, He is God and HE IS GOOD. He is GOOD, my friend. I can testify to that to you tonight through tears. Because I didn’t WANT to write this post – I didn’t feel like I had anything left to give after today. But I am here. Through God’s grace, I’m here. And, perhaps, so are you. 😉
He. is. good.
Jesus, I Trust in You.
Maybe you’re reading these words and you aren’t feeling joy, either. Maybe you haven’t felt joy in a long, long, time. Life has beaten you up and brought you down. Or you’re going through a rough patch with no end in sight. Or there’s an end in sight, but you’re just not sure you can make it to the end.
Maybe you’re wondering if you’ll ever feel the tender and unexpected kiss of joy in your life again.
Tonight I pray that the Holy Spirit will provide us – you and me and those we love – with a large measure of hope – that while the night may have come upon us and is trying to dampen our sense of worth, our faith, our identity as sons and daughters of the King, there is, my brothers and sisters in Christ, authentic joy that will come in the morning. If only we will seek Him. There is a peace that surpasses understanding. There is mercy as wide and as deep as a thousand oceans awaiting us if only we submit our will to His amazing grace.
Let’s reach out to Him right now for that hope, that peace, that mercy, and, yes, joy. Lasting, abiding, and authentic joy in Christ Jesus.
Amen and amen and amen. I believe, I believe, I believe.
I was blessed to write today’s devotion over at Blessed is She, one about seemingly devastating pain and sorrow that was miraculously transformed by the healing touch of our saving Lord. Maybe, like me, you’ve experienced pain or sorrow so deeply that, at times, life doesn’t seem like it’s worth living anymore. I am here to testify to you, my dear sisters in Christ, that life is *always* worth it, even if it isn’t easy. Real healing begins when you can allow Jesus himself to enter into your life and say to you as he did to the little girl in today’s Gospel: “My child, I say to you: arise.”
Please know that he loves you so, so much and wants nothing more than for you to be healed. You are not alone. God bless you. ❤