Joy

window ScotlandThough I want joy—unceasing,

I experience only moments of it

Much between is grit-my-teeth “showing up.”

None of it is horrible;

I can always make the comparison—

To parents of children with cancer

To those suffering persecution or

being abused

To orphans, single moms, trafficking victims,

Others who have lost loved ones…

The juxtaposition brings guilt,

Which coils in my gut,

A python heavy, growing heavier.

Ach, guilt is no answer.

Joy requires realization,

That though life is often cruel because of heartbreak,

It more often is simply hard because of paradox:

who we are is not who we want to be,

the grand beauty we dream of

is not actualized in the day–to-day—

and the movie screen is an insufficient substitute.

If we settle, give up the longing, and live half-lives,

No joy.

But when we plumb beyond the temporal shallows,

Shoving past the “too weak” desires

To the eternal depths beneath,

We discover Joy has a Name,

A Face, a Person—

Whom we are invited to Know.

Inspired in part by C.S. Lewis’ opening words in “The Weight of Glory”:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (26)

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Applying George Costanza’s “Opposite technique” to my prayer life

I could say that this picture fits this post because I took a shot of the bottom side of the leaf rather than the  top, but that would be cheesy, right?!

I could say that this picture fits this post because I took a shot of the bottom side of the leaf rather than the top, but that would be cheesy, right?!

Dave and I were Seinfeld junkies in the early years of our marriage. One of our favorite episodes was “The Opposite,” in which Jerry tells perennially down-on-his-luck George that every impulse he has is wrong, and George decides to do the opposite of his impulses. A few minutes later he meets a very attractive woman and tells her, straight up, “My name is George. I’m unemployed, and I live with my parents.” (Usually he said he was an architect [not true].) Amazingly, she agreed to go out with him.

It’s a funny, funny episode (as most of them are), but the reason I bring it up is that I’ve been trying to apply this idea to certain areas of my prayer life lately.

I’ve been practicing “the opposite” technique on my natural impulses of guilt/comparison/criticism.

When I’m reading an article in Voice of the Martyrs (a magazine about the persecuted church) about believers who have lost everything but who are still sharing Jesus’ love with their neighbors, my first impulse is to think, Oh, they’re so much more spiritual than I am. I’m just not strong enough in my faith!

When I hear about people who work for the International Justice Mission, serve in shelters for battered women, deliver Meals on Wheels—you name it—my initial response is, I should be doing more.

When I see a woman who looks like she has it all together, my gut instinct is to compare, and my confidence gets beaten down in the process.

And when I see a woman who’s clearly struggling, deep down in me there’s also a bit of comparison going on—comparison that makes me feel better about myself.

When I’m picking up all the debris my children leave strewn across the floor and every available surface, there’s generally some silent fussing going on. (Sometimes it’s NOT silent!)

I used to read the verse about “praying without ceasing” and think, “How?”

But if I turn all my guilt/comparison/criticism into PRAYER and add to that my daily-sometimes-hourly cries for help, well, then that’s pretty un-ceasing!

So, when I hear the next radio piece about Mary Frances Bowley’s work with survivors of sexual abuse and prostitution, I will not waste my time feeling bad about the work I’m doing or guilty for not doing “more.” Instead I will pray for Mary Frances, for the girls at Wellspring Living’s safe house, for the many staff who work with them, and for those trapped in sex trafficking around the world.

When I am tempted to fuss about the messes my children have made, why not pray for them instead? I may still be frustrated, but I will have lifted my kids up to God as eternal souls.

What a better use of my time and energy!

Now I definitely want to avoid making this rote and mechanical, something I “have” to do, but, honesty, “rote and mechanical” often describes my complaining/comparison/guilt.

It’s simply a default pattern, a harmful one.

I need a new pattern to follow.

From ____________ to prayer.

Thank you, George!

And Jerry, of course!

NOTE: I think this kind of “new” practice/pattern is part of what Scripture refers to as the “renewing of our minds.” Here are a few verses that have to do with our souls and minds becoming “new.” Because these are pretty well-known verses, I looked them up in the Amplified version to make their messages fresh.

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

Ephesians 4:22-24 Strip yourselves of your former nature [put off and discard your old unrenewed self] which characterized your previous manner of life and becomes corrupt through lusts and desires that spring from delusion; 23 And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude], 24 And put on the new nature (the regenerate self) created in God’s image, [Godlike] in true righteousness and holiness.