Life doesn’t have to be easy to be joyful
Remember my little mention last week that a film crew is coming to capture my every move this Wednesday? My remorse has only grown deeper, my despair more multi-layered, my impending sense of doom more distinct (I now hear the Jaws theme every time I look at that day on the calendar). As of yesterday afternoon, I’d decided that my decision to agree to this must have been a subconscious attempt to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for the WORST IDEA EVER category.
Yesterday evening I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror, and my haggard appearance only reminded me of how very tired, achy and…tired I feel. I looked around the house at all the clutter that’s not going to be cleared out as planned, the holes in the wall that we don’t have the time or energy to fix, the stains in the carpet that will continue to look like a failed modern art experiment was done in my living room. And, most disturbingly, I thought of how I’d huffed and puffed through the day, constantly needing to rest. For a million dollars I couldn’t have pretended to be peppy and positive. And THIS is what is going to be held out as the life of a person of faith?!
After freaking out to a friend, freaking out to my husband, freaking out on Twitter (and, umm, then getting distracted and wasting a bunch of time online), it finally occurred to me to pray. And so I did, and, whatddaya know, it actually calmed me down and gave me a sense of clarity. Almost immediately, the thought occurred to me:
Maybe all that is the point!
Maybe it is exactly in God’s plan that my life would be documented when I don’t have things perfectly under control. Because it’s the only way to highlight what I believe is the biggest visible difference in my life since my conversion: my joy.
If a film crew had wanted to shoot a day in my life eight years ago, it would have been no trouble to present a very appealing image. They could have shown me whipping together a breakfast at 10:00 AM in my downtown loft, using the $10 carton of uber-organic omega-3 free range Himalayan eggs I’d bought at Whole Foods. Then a workout in the building gym with my personal trainer, a walk down Congress Avenue to meet with one of my freelance clients, a stop at Starbucks for a latte, and then back at the loft to meet with the staff we’d hired for one of our summer parties that was to take place on the beautiful rooftop deck that night.
Contrast that to the footage they’ll get tomorrow with me looking as tired as I feel, pregnant with my fifth kid in six years, in a cramped (and messy) house in the ‘burbs where the sounds of screaming are as frequent as the ominous smells of diapers in need of changing. No question, my life is harder now. There is less comfort and more suffering (to use the term loosely), a whole lot less luxury and a whole lot more sacrifice.
Am I happier now? On the whole, absolutely, yes. However, if you were to have polled me on a minute-to-minute basis in 2003 with the question “Are you happy right now?” and conducted the same poll on a minute-to-minute basis last week, I would probably answer in the affirmative less often now than I did then (if nothing else, about half the time my current answer would be, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU BECAUSE EVERYONE IS SCREAMING.”) I am pushed to my limit more often these days than back when I was an atheist.
But here, I believe, is the metric that really matters: Do I have more joy now than I did then? And that’s where the contrast is off the charts.
Joy is something different than happiness, and it’s a whole lot different than surface-level pleasure or physical comfort. It’s something divine in origin, not subject to the ups and downs of human emotions, a kind of ecstatic contentment and explosive peace that can only come from contact with the Source of all life and love himself. I may have more challenges now than I used to, but they also don’t bother me as much as they would have before. When I would be in a mildly bad mood in my old life, it was like my discontent would sink right down to my bones. There was nothing to pad my soul, so even the slightest bumps in the road would rattle me to the core of my being. Now it’s like my soul is bubble-wrapped with joy. Even on the worst day, there’s only so much that my worldly circumstances can get me down. Sure, I still notice and feel and dislike the bad emotions, but they no longer have the power over me that they once did, because underneath it all, where there was once nothingness, there is now joy.
It’s a beautiful thing. But here’s the catch: the more intimately we know Christ, the more joy we’ll have…but Christ is the very embodiment of self-sacrifice, of pouring out oneself for the sake of others. In other words, going to fancy meetings in skyscrapers and driving a nice car and hosting luxurious parties are probably not going to bring you a whole lot of joy. But living a life ordered toward the service of others will. So, even though I have a long way to go in the selflessness department, I make a whole lot more sacrifices for others now than I did before my conversion. And I’m not joyful in spite of that fact, but because of it.
The more I think about this, the more ready I feel to welcome those cameras tomorrow. I think I’m okay with my life being documented the way it really is. Because, if it all goes well, they’ll end up showing a hugely pregnant woman waddling around her not-super-clean house, sometimes getting frustrated with all the chaos, walking past old pictures of herself where she was obviously thinner and richer, and it will be the story of someone who has learned that life doesn’t have to be easy to be joyful.