Joy and happiness are tricky things. They sound the same, but in the circles I come from, joy is a prize to be won and happiness is something you avoid (because happiness comes from the world and joy comes from Jesus….oy)
Well, let me just say, I lived a lot of years royally unhappy.
Like, crying, fasting, praying – more crying, more fasting, more praying. All for my circumstances to change. For people to be something they weren’t. For me to be someone I wasn’t. And for all the messy things in my life to fit into a neatly ordered box (packed, shipped and labeled directly from Amazon – eh, I mean, the Bible).
I write this not from a sarcastic place, but rather from an honest place. One that I was deeply invested in and committed to. Like many, my repetitive prayers and pleas were built on my hope for things to change – my belief that it would all get better.
But in doing this, I was escaping reality. Avoiding the reality of my circumstances, my choices and the people in my life – covering it all up with verses and organized prayer. Because as much as I wanted to believe it would all get better….my life was deeply fractured and broken.
Here’s the deal:
A person can say over and over again that they don’t have a broken arm. They can ignore the cast, the writhing pain and the fact that their arm doesn’t function properly; and they may actually believe it for a time. But, eventually they will try to use their arm and realize it is still broken.
A lot of my life was spent that way.
However, life eventually pulled my head out of the sand and forced me to admit something wasn’t working. Something was terribly wrong.
It’s a lot like this: imagine a vast beach with lots of people digging in the sand. Everyone is telling you that if you dig with 1 + 1 you will uncover a 2. You dig into the sand just like you’re told, expecting to pull up a 2, but instead you pull up a 0. Deciding that maybe you’re doing it wrong, you begin digging again. Still you uncover a 0. You shame yourself, beat yourself and lecture yourself determined that YOU must be the problem. Over and over again you continue to dig and continue to find 0’s.
Exhausted, you sit back and observe those around you to see what (if anything) you can learn. But, much to your surprise, they aren’t digging up 2’s either. Most of them have stopped all together; instead, they are desperately trying to create 2’s themselves. Some are writing 2’s in the sand with sticks, others are creating the image of a 2 with rocks and pebbles, while their neighbors are all too busy covering up their 0’s in shame.
This was me.
When I realized it wasn’t working for me or for anyone else I knew, I grabbed my courage and waved my 0 for all to see. I thought my honesty would encourage others to be honest as well…but, that was not the case.
Instead, they hurried their hands faster, demanding that the sticks they were holding were actual 2’s. Others shamed me. Some refused to acknowledge me. And then others tried to run me off that beach so fast, that you would have thought I held up a Rob Bell book at a Baptist seminary convention.
The thing is though, once you see you can’t unsee. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a 0 the entire time. It was that I had been taught to not acknowledge it. I was taught to “in faith” tell it to be a 2.
For me, my 0 represented many things. For some it is an addiction, a bad relationship, a crumbling marriage, an affair, an eating disorder, a mental illness, sexual orientation or a financial issue. It can be just about anything.
But, the problem isn’t that you’re pulling a 0 – it’s that you are pretending it is something it isn’t.
One of my favorite mantras I have embraced is, honesty. This doesn’t mean that I tell everyone, everything. But, it does mean that I am honest with myself. It means I have the responsibility to care for that honesty and do right by it. It means I don’t have the option of hiding from it, ignoring it or pretending it isn’t there. It means I have to dig into it, unearth it and really look at it. It means I must accept it and decide what to do with the reality of what it is.
This is not something that is often done inside of Christianity – at least, not as a whole. But, for me, I could not live that way anymore. I had to be real with myself and surround myself with others I could be real with as well.
I slowly let myself unravel.
Unravelling is never easy. It’s often painful, hard and lonely. But, years and years of religiosity needed to be undone. Loads of denial and pain needed to be dealt with. And, most importantly, I needed to find joy – real joy. The joy that comes from being free.
Things in my life obviously changed.
I let go of fasting and embraced eating chocolate cake (like the made from scratch kind. Holy mother of pearl). I traded an unhappy marriage for 2 happy homes. I stopped being a doormat of “turning the other cheek” and started standing up for myself. I quit saying “thank you” everytime my heart hurt and instead dropped loads of swear words (don’t judge. It’s highly therapeutic). I traded hours of crying to worship music, for ridiculously fun dance parties in the kitchen with my kids (they say I can’t dance – whatev. This momma still has some moves). I have chosen to surround myself with what I really, really want instead of what I was told I to have.
I’m not saying that fasting is wrong or that prayer/worship is unnecessary. But, for me, this practice became more about an idolatry of what I thought God was supposed to do, rather than positioning myself to be open to the wild, unorthodox, out-of-the-box life the Divine had for me instead.
I can’t say my life is perfect. But, I can honestly say that I laugh a lot more. My house is full of joy and honest conversations. I am free to be authentic and those around me are authentic too – whatever it looks like for them. It’s truly a beautiful thing.
I can’t tell you that your picture perfect idea of what your life should be is going to happen – but, what I can tell you, is that letting go of that perfect picture might be the first step into the life you actually really want. One full of happiness, joy and true freedom.