Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Joy is Hard, II

Allowing ourselves to mourn develops our capacity to feel life’s joys. I believe that positive and negative emotions are two sides of the same coin. Of course, many of us would prefer to experience and deal with only positive feelings. We often feel uncomfortable with our own or others’ sadness, anger, disappointments, fears. . . . As we learn to feel all our feelings, we explore what it means to be fully human, to be all that God created us to be.

—Mary Lou Redding
The Power of a Focused Heart

I came across this from doing the Beth Richardson online retreat, "Unlcuttering Your Heart during Advent and Christmas." It speaks to the psychology of joy- that true joy comes in the context of experiencing pain, not as an escape from it. Of course, the cultural expectations are all about turning on happiness with a click of the "joy app" brought to you by the Christmas machine.

But we're human and not wired machines. Our resources include that which is not accessible to the naked eye. They include our emotional and spiritual, as well as our physical reserves. This season naturally takes withdrawals from us. If you're a clergy leader, the deficits mean that your reserves, if they exist at all, will be depleted to the point that you may not be fully present to your closest friends and family as you gather with them.

The good news is this: we can learn a better way, in any and all seasons. Until recently, I let my energy be absorbed in the siphoning vortex of this season's predetermined schedule. So the first step for me was realize I have choices. That, in itself, is empowering. How can I be more intentional in my spiritual life and more responsible for my own self-care each December?

Second, instead of just claiming "I survived- thank God it's over," I chose to celebrate so that I could look back and be grateful for what was life-giving in the season. Finally, I chose one or two activities to do over the season that I truly enjoyed, that would reconnect me with what is holy in my past Christmases, and then offering that to others. Singing in the choir and facilitating on online Advent discussion group were my choices.

Our part with joy does have to do with both the things that happen to us but also, the things that we choose. We tend to minimize the later. Although we cannot chose to just chuck the demands of this season, we can at least be more focused on the choices we can make. And we can let these decisions be more life- giving than diminishing.

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