Monthly Archives: January 2018

Joyful, joyful

The first two words to the lyrics to Beethoven’s 9th symphony are joyful, joyful. It’s somewhat fitting–for this post, anyway–that Beethoven’s 9th is also more or less the theme song to Die Hard.

According to the message at church today, as Christians, we’re to be joyful. I’ve written on this before. Joyful doesn’t necessarily mean happy. Happy is transitory. Happy is how you feel after your team wins. Happy is how you feel when you see your best friend or your kids come back home for the holidays. Happy is situational.

Joyful, though, is another thing.

A guy I knew died of cancer. I wasn’t part of his life at that point, but the other guys who knew him repeatedly point to how solid he was through that whole experience. It’s not happy-making to get a terminal cancer diagnosis. You aren’t likely to click your heels and don a party hat. But you can still have joy.

Joy is hard work. As hard as John McClane single-handedly foiling a bunch of very violent bank robbers. It’s dirty, too.

Joy isn’t intuitive. Intuition–and maybe sanity–would seem to dictate situational happiness. You’re joyful when you get the raise and the promotion–not when you get laid off. You’re joyful when the exercise and diet pay off at the doctor, not when the discussion involves grim looks and the c-word. You’re joyful at birth, not at death.

It’s just easier that way. How can you possibly keep an eye on joy when the world is going to hell?

According to church, that’s not our job. It’s the Holy Spirit.

But first of all, many people don’t believe in the Holy Spirit. And of those of us who do, the belief can often become buried under the burdensome pile of shit that life can deposit there.

And that’s to be expected. Jesus himself said that in this world, we will know trouble. But he also said that he has overcome this world. His father, you know, God, has said that he keeps track of our tears in his bottle. (Easy for me because I am a manly man and I have fewer tears than hair.)

Christian life never ignores the presence of pain, evil, and abuse. It’s at those times that we’re supposed to be together. We’re supposed to cry with those who cry and mourn with those who mourn. We’re supposed to sit quiet in the room, if necessary, with those who hurt beyond any words.

Counterintuitively, I think that’s one of the keys to joy–acknowledging that stuff will suck. That sometimes life becomes an endless stream of sewage for longer than anyone would deem fair.

Maybe part of the key to joy is lifting people in the stream up, if even just an inch. When you’re worried about drowning in shit, it’s hard to see the light.

But if someone’s helping you stay afloat, you have a better chance. And if they’re with you, even when it’s bad, maybe they reflect the light. Maybe they become your hope through the light.

Joy doesn’t mean Pollyanna. It doesn’t mean smiling and pretending nothing’s wrong when very much is. It’s a sober recognition that sometimes life sucks, but you’re going to understand that there are bigger things that suckage, and the ultimately, pain–even what we perceive as final pain, is transitory.

It’s fricking hard work. It will demand more than you can ever imagine delivering sometimes. And sometimes, you can’t do it alone. That’s when you need the Holy Spirit, if you believe, and the people you trust the most whether you believe or not.

And when the people around you are in that situation, that’s when they need you. Sometimes, as the poem goes, there’s only one set of footsteps on the beach. Because we’re here together, and that’s what we do sometimes. We carry each other.

And that’s joy.

Know this: You will fail (and that’s okay)

Changing yourself is the most difficult thing you can do. One of the keys to success is to know going in that you will fail and to accept that.

It’s counterintuitive, but absolutely true.

The things you want to change about yourself–the things that keep you awake a little if you think of them–are probably habits that you’ve had for a long time. In order to beat those things, you have to retrain your mind.

Put another way, if you’ve always gone left in situation X, and you want to go right, you’ve got a problem. You brain is trained to go left because it’s gone left for decades.

So tomorrow, what will you do? You’ll go left. Your brain doesn’t even think to go left. You’ll go left before you’ve even thought of it. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll kick yourself for being an idiot and going left.

But change is hard and real change is rarely instant. That recognition that you should’ve gone right–the thing that leads you to say you’re an idiot–is a sign of progress. You have to go through the process to get to the end.

In other words, success is built in recognizing failure and going through the process of retraining yourself. You have to give yourself the permission to do that.

More than that, recognize that discomfort that you want to go right and you aren’t is progress. It’s the first step in going where you want to be.


New struggle for a new year

And so here we are, another new year. Today is where our book begins; the rest is still unwritten.

I’ve been fiddling around with this God stuff for a long time. I’ve been more or less serious about it for about 25 years now, and yet…

I don’t believe. Not really.

I know. I can discuss the Bible with some level of competence and win a lot of arguments. When I’m of a mind to do so, I can find a number of really comforting verses (Psalms 25 and 56 come to mind).

But if I look honestly at it, I don’t know God. I know of God. But I don’t know him.

Because every time God encounters one of his people, he starts with “Don’t be afraid.” Google “Be Bold” and Bible and see what comes back. (Required caveat: Be bold does not equal “thou shalt be a schmuck.”)

This year, for a number of reasons, my success or failure in a specific, important part of my life rests entirely on my ability to be not afraid. It relies on my living by faith and not by sight. It involves me not equating struggle with in competence.

I’ll be clear–I can’t do that. That’s not how I’m wired. So basically, it means I need to trust in God to help me where I need it.

To be clear, I need to do my part, right? And my part’s hard. Think of the things you try hard and fail at, the things that you want to change, but always crash and burn about.

The things I want to do I don’t do. The things I don’t want to do, these things I do. (Idiot.)  Who will free me from all this stupid crap?

Maybe I’m looking at the struggles wrong. Maybe they aren’t struggles. Maybe they’re life. And maybe if I put the effort into knowing God, then maybe success will be different.

Because the bottom line isn’t what I do to make myself successful. If I really believed all this stuff, it would be glorifying God. My goals are less lofty. I really want to, every day, be better for other people.

Life’s a bitch. That’s Biblical (John 16:33). It’s a bitch for all of us. We’re in it together. The greatest obligation is to be fully in it and help each other through.

That’s Biblical, too (Ephesians, Colossians).