Sunday, May 2, 2010

How to Find Joy

No, this is not a tutorial, though I wish it were!

Rather, it is a question. One that I have been pondering for more than a year now. A loaded question which can apply to many different situations in life, not just infertility and/or inability to adopt.

I having been struggling for quite a while with how to find joy. Not just here-and-there joy, but general joy, the kind that makes you want to dance around singing God's praises every minute of the day.

It's not that I don't sing God's praises now. It's more a matter of I don't feel like I have a personal reason to sing his praises every minute of every day. And that is truly. sad. Is His dying on the cross for me not enough reason? Is His generous gifts of a loving family, husband, place to live, income, wonderful pets, and food on my plate not enough reason?

I remember having a feeling last year in the presence of the Holy Sacrament after Holy Thursday Mass... a strong feeling of, "Jesus, YOU ARE enough for me." I still have that feeling, and I know logically that He is enough for me. But I still do not feel JOYful.

I am trying to wrap my mind around this (apparent) inability I have to find joy, and find the reason behind it. Does God intend for me to NOT have complete and utter joy now, so that WHEN I have something absolutely wonderful to rejoice about, I will rejoice all the more?? It just seems so contrary to me. The fact that I would only rejoice in God's awesomeness when my desires have been fulfilled. Doesn't it??

I'm not trying to be argumentative in the least, here. I really just seek understanding. I mean, I guess to a certain extent it could be true that a part of God's plan is for me to NOT have any joy for a period of time in my life, so that I can feel it all the more when it does come.

But I honestly would rather have that joy in my heart at all times for a number of reasons.

First, I would feel hypocritical singing God's praises daily only after He has given me what I want. (And like I said, this is a very broad idea here, I am talking about day-to-day happenings as well, like getting a job offer or being able to go on a vacation, etc.)

Second, it is a form of self-preservation. I think an underlying and ongoing fear of mine is that my ultimate goal and desire for my life may possibly never be fulfilled. The desire to be a mother, and the goal of achieving motherhood before I leave this earth. If I am somehow able to find joy before and/or without motherhood, then I know I will be "ok" for the remainder of my life.

Third, I want to be a better disciple of Christ. Did the martyrs and saints only proclaim God's goodness when things were going their way?? Hardly. It was quite often just the opposite! Here they were being persecuted, and put through trials far worse than anything I could imagine, and still they adored Christ in both word and deed.

Now, I'm not saying that I do not adore my God. But I'm also not yet at the point where I can sit in church behind a family of 7, kneeling before the Sacrament, and sing aloud in my head, "Oh God, you are so good to me!!" I still have a lot of resentment that I NEED to work on in this area. I have claimed to view my infertility as a gift from God... so what, was I BSing??? No. I still view it as a gift. Shouldn't I thank God for this gift, then? Continually?? Now that's where it gets sticky.

My infertility is most certainly a gift, a gift I am SURE I would not return if given the chance. (I know that sounds like a bare-faced lie.) But it's more because of WHO the gift comes than the gift itself which makes me want to cling to and "embrace" it. It's like an absolutely hideous sweater, wool with big hot pink pom-poms all over it, that your grandmother made for you right before she passed away. Do I love the sweater? Heck no! Would I ever throw it away? Never. But I'm also torn about wanting to wear it, especially in public. Sometimes I downright resent having to wear it at all, but then I feel guilty about resenting something given to me out of pure love. I should be proud to wear it, shouldn't I?

I am so very torn about this joy thing. I'm sorry but there is no resolution to this post. I am very interested to hear your thoughts on this, so please share them!! Lurkers too!!


Sew said...

Of course you should want to wear it the problem is that you don't think it looks good on you! So you keep it nicely hidden in the bottom drawer...Until you are able to realize the gift that you had in your grandma! Once that is realized in you then you love the sweat for all that it is....So until then, I'm playing dumb here, and am going out on a limb I won't know the true gift of my infertility until it's gone! hahaha

I do totally agree with you....Infertility has been so good to me. I need it in my life. Too bad I'm not into pink, wool, pom pom sweaters, but it will definitely teach me humility if nothing else....

Sew said...

Oh and by the way GREAT POST!

Thankful said...

His death makes it easier to carry our cross with joy, but it definitely doesn't take the cross away. I think that finding joy is connected to your comment on Trustful Surrender's last post. You describe well how putting your energies elsewhere lessens the time you dwell on the pain. To flip that on it's head (in an optimistic way) - isn't the absence of pain, joy (okay, I know that "nothingness" is an option, but this is supposed to be upbeat)? Even if it isn't effervescent joy, it is joy, right?

To be honest, I am suddenly feeling completely inadequate in replying to this. TCIE - here's a hug and letting you know that I may be looking for a dinner buddy next week! :)

Chasing said...

This is just my 2 cents, so take it or leave it as you see fit:
The times in my life I have experienced the most joy has been the times I've had a stronger relationship with the third person of the Trinity, the ol' HS. Since joy is objectively a "fruit of the Holy Spirit," I think it makes sense that it would be more evident in my life when I am more docile to him. Truth be told, IF definitely took it's toll on my prayer life with the HS (Actually, the only aspect of my prayer life that improved during IF has been with the Father) so it makes sense that I have been "chasing joy" through this whole process!

prayerfuljourney said...

I truly believe that absolute joy comes when we get to heaven...I don't think we can get it here on earth. Something better is waiting for us. Isn't that why we keep away from the stain of sin? We want heaven!!! Why would we want heaven if life on earth was so wonderful? Hmmm???

God has a better plan if it isn't children for you. I just have to believe that(for myself) and now that I'm living with that in mind...I'm happier. I feel like I can focus on other things. I really believe it's the not knowing that gets to us IF'ers. It's hard to plan or think too far ahead into the future. Since I've let it go...I just think "This is my plan unless God lets me know otherwise." I find joy in the today's and the fine memories of the yesterdays and let tomorrow be God's.

Hope this helps! God Bless.

Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

I'm very much at this point too-wanting to praise Him but not sure how to MEAN it. Your sweater analogy is perfect-absolutely perfect!

[email protected] said...

TCIE, have you heard of the three stages of holiness? When I learned about them (it's traditional Catholic spirituality that no one seems to know about these days), it truly was life-changing. I learned that once a Christian gets past the first stage and into the second stage, that is where peace and joy start to outstrip fear and anxiety. Most Christians, however, live their entire lives in the first stage (me included, thus far!!).

The books that were most powerful to me were Fire Within by Fr. Dubay, and The Ordinary Path to Holiness by R. Thomas Richard or is it R. Richard Thomas?? Anyway, Fr. Groeschel also has a book called Spiritual Passages . He is a psychologist in addition to being a holy and orthodox priest, so that book was fascinating and deal with the stages as well.

The goal is, of course, to get to the third stage (union with God), which brings complete interior joy (it is like spiritual marriage). The saints had this on earth. Most of us won't know this till Heaven (after my long Purgatory, ha!)

Anyway, forgive me if I am telling you something you already know about; it just helped me understand so much about the journey to God and what it looks like. I am a "linear" person and I needed to see that "path". It helped me so much.

God bless!! And, great post!!!

Amy @ This Cross I Embrace said...

Oooh, this is good stuff, keep it coming!!

Leila, I knew nothing of this, thank you for bringing it to my attention. Now... is there a manual on HOW to get to stage 2??!

barbie said...

oh wow, TCIE you are such an amazing can type out your feelings so well.

I have no words of wisdom here. Am I happy most of the time, yes. Am I perfectly content with my life, no. Right now I'm angry and frustrated and desperate and driven into the mud but I'm no "depressed" I really think that it's a work in progress. My mom and I were talking about St Theresa and how she would tell God something like "if this is how you treat your friends I can see why you don't have many" (I'm paraphrasing there) but it's true. He asks so much of some it seems and so much less of others. Just because I can handle it God doesn't mean I want to!

I keep going back to the stages of dying or grief......there are seven and I think that each and everyone of us have to work thru to get to the acceptance....and there is anger and despair before you get to the acceptance. I think you are terribly strong and I know you'll get there.

I love the book Lelia suggested, I need to go get it!

Life In Mazes said...

I love your analogy about the unattractive sweater from your favorite person!

You have always amazed me with your courage, your steadfast faith, and your willingness to love your cross. You have taught me so much!

I just get the picture of God romancing you, drawing you to himself and God feeling so drawn to you with such an amazing love! Praying for you to have joy fulfilled in your life!

[email protected] said...

TCIE, ha ha! I wish there were a short, quick manual!

It's all about relationship and prayer (as you could guess).... And once most people go from the first stage (purgative) to the second (illuminative), they tend to fall back to the purgative stage even after they have caught a glimpse of its beauty. There is a fear of going further toward God, even though the soul knows that peace and joy will come. It's a fear of letting go of who you think you are, and what you have. It's a trust issue. Abandonment to God is hard.

Anyway, there is so much to it, and it is SO profound and beautiful. I would go on and on, but this is a blog comment after all, ha ha!!!

[email protected] said...

*caught a glimpse of the illuminative stage's beauty.

Jeremiah 29:11 said...

What a beautiful post!! Each of our journey's is such a mystery. Only God knows the plans he has for us. Praying for you.

Chasing said...

I may be remembering incorrectly, but wasn't St. Teresa of Avila the first (or one of the early writers) to talk about the 3 stages? I think maybe it's in Interior Castle. Does that sound right?

... said...

Along with Barbie’s thoughts on grief, I think IF compounds the problem because there is never “the end” for most of us (at least not for a few more years). You can’t ever seem to start the whole mourning process (and get to that acceptance) because there is next month. No matter how many times you’ve been beaten down or thought “this is the last month, then it’s over”, you’re still kind of hopeful about next month because, after all, miracles do happen. It’s hard to imagine someone stuck in grief ever achieving joy until they can move through it all and accept their situation. With us, however, every little month is a mourning session all into itself. There just does no definite “no, this is not going to happen for you under any circumstance whatsoever.”

I don’t have any answers. I’m definitely a happy person most days, but I still long for this and still weep about it at times. I guess you have to try and find joy in the little everyday things first and celebrate them more than with just a passing thought even when you do not feel like it. Maybe then it will move to a greater joy.

JellyBelly said...

I'm sure that you saw the FB status commemorating National IF Week. I struggled with posting it on my status and in the end I didn't. Although I have a full life and despite IF I have found a way to be happy, I still don't want to share it with the world.

I think that I'm at a point where I can see the good that has come of my IF. It took me a very long to get to this point, but I'm here. Although I think about it often, it doesn't consume me as it did at the beginning of our journey.

I know that God's plan for me (and all of us Catholic IF'ers) is a much greater plan that we can imagine. I know that we all have to surrender our pride and expectations and embrace what is to come. It's the patience that I have the hardest time with!

All I know is that I'm so grateful for your friendship and the others that I've made in this community that we've founded. Even though all of you are so far away geographically, I can feel you raising me up when I feel that I can't do it anymore. Your prayers have helped me get through so many difficult moments.

We will rejoice one day, TCIE. I'm certain of it.

[email protected] said...

Chasing, yes, you are right! St. Teresa's spiritual mansions are talked about a lot in the stages. She had nine (I think??) mansions, and those fit into the three stages that the spiritual writers talk about. St. John of the Cross' works and prayer knowledge also figure into the three stages. Really mystical, profound stuff!!

Kathryn said...

TCIE, beautiful post. And everyone's comments are so awesome! You all are so brilliant.

The only thing I have to add is the part about wearing infertility in public...that has been so so hard for me. The four years we were infertile before kids we told NO ONE about our infertility excpet my mom. And the only reason my mom found out was because she said something dumb like, 'good thing you don't have kids yet' or something and I started bawling.
The hardest part for me about telling people we were adopting is that all the sudden our infertility was a topic that had to be brought up. Everyone was surprised by it...most people assumed we were contracepting. We still avoided talking about IF as much as possible.
It got even worse after we got our kids home though...since they don't share our race adoption and IF is something I wear on my sleave everyday. Everytime I go into the grocery store it is there, or the bank, or where ever. And people bring it up. Over the last couple years I have gotten VERY open about it all. I don't talk about our medical situation usually, but I do talk about the pain and joy of it all. And man, that has brought about some amazing fruits. Our priest friends preach on IF now, and some people have come forward who are suffering IF or secondary IF that I didn't know about.
I guess my point (I am finally getting to it) is that I too was initially very uncomforable with wearing that ugly sweater in public...but I have learned that transparency is freeing, and even healing.
Sure I have burst into tears and had quite a few awkward public moments...but all in all it is worth it.

(PS, I think you've got the joy thing down because you are CHOOSING it...real joy is an act of the will, not an emotion or feeling. The human heart is fickle and our emotions will always betray us, but the will is wear it's at. Just keep choosing are very pleasing to our Lord.)

Meg @ True, Good and Beautiful said...

I didn't read through all the comments, so I may be being redundant. Sorry.

Whenever I first ponder "joy" I think about how I can obtain it, or more specifically, how I can train myself to have it. I tend to think of it like a virtue-like if I practice enough, I'll just figure out how to have it. Or perhaps if I can "fake it 'til I make it."

But then I realize that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. So I really can't learn how to obtain it by doing certain things. Nor will it just be given to me freely as a gift. As a fruit, it will be something that God will produce within me as a result of my closeness with him and my humility to be formed according to His Spirit. Naturally, this is probably the most difficult of the ways I had thought about having joy. Had I just been able to practice it as a virtue or were it given as a free gift, I would have been happier about it. :) However, a lot of my own problems will be solved if I simply allow myself to be conformed by the Holy Spirit into the person I was created to be. After all, joy is only one of 12 important fruits that I could use a lesson or two in.

I really want to delve more into this and I look forward to reading the comments (eventually) and hearing your thoughts. You always have the best insights!

Mrs. Mike said...

TCIE--I love this post so much. You are such a tender soul and I truly appreciate the way you articulate what you are feeling and thinking.

I've been chewing on this though the last few days and heard something at bible study tonight that made my ears perk up and think of you and this dilemma that you have expressed so well.

That is..happiness and joy are not the same thing. One can be unhappy about one's lot in life, but still have a joyful disposition in spite it. This is what the virtue of Christian Joy is: the ability to smile through our tears...the ability to praise God in the midst of the a storm.

This earthly journey is, after all, a vale of tears. A pilgrimage full of sorrows and hurts. No one escapes pain and sorrow in this life--though to be sure, some are chosen to bear heavier burdens than others. But there is a wealth of virtue to be gained in the "keep on, keepin' on". St. Paul's letters preach this point ad nauseam. Enduring suffering with joy seems to be his recurring theme/battle cry...and for good reason.

Now as to the HOW do get/keep joy? Heh...I'm still searching for that myself. But reading the comments here has given some insight.

Love Sew's sweater analogy!

airing the chapel said...

It's hard to provide encouragement to one you don't know but as Christians, we all share a holy bond.

I would humbly recommend you focus on your relationship with your husband. Marriage is a holy sacrament and sometimes I think our husbands feel lost and disconnected (perhaps) from their wives as we get continually disappointed by failing to get pregnant.

God is faithful. Don't forget that.

mrsblondies said...

I love your post; you always have such wonderfully thoughtful and interesting things to say. Everyone has such great comments. I hope that we can all find the joy that God has plan for us in this life, while we wait for the infinite joy of the next.

doctorgianna said...

I love your blog! I don't have any answers for you. Only that experiencing joy here on earth is not the goal. The goal is to have eternal joy in heaven. And some of the saints likely did not experience true joy here on earth, but like you, they were persistent in trying to obtain it and doing their best to praise God. I love the sweater analogy!

Okay, I just read Leila's comment and realize that I am totally wrong about the saints not experiencing joy on earth. I've gotta go get one of those books. Also, I like lowly's comment on the fact that you are CHOOSING joy. This is admirable and keeps you moving forward even if you don't seem to be.

[email protected] said...

Dr. G, you raise a good point! I need to go back and read the books again, and see about the issue of "joy" being "felt" by all the saints, because I want to make sure I am defining my terms correctly.

You made me remember that Mother Teresa for example had NO supernatural consolations in the last fifty years of her life (though she did earlier). I would need to see where something like that fits in with St. Teresa of Avila's mansions and the three stages of holiness.

I think it is fair to say that when we speak of interior "joy" we aren't talking about a giddiness, or what the world defines as "happiness". It's something peaceful and radiant inside, and it's that intimate knowledge of the Holy Trinity in one's soul. That spiritual marriage that we will all have one day in Heaven (the Wedding Feast of the Lamb), but which the saints achieved on earth. (Of course in Heaven, all the suffering and pain will be gone, too, and there will be exterior AND interior joy!)

Still, although saints do not have the fear and anxiety that the rest of us do (well, they did when they started out... but then they got so strong that they could face even martyrdom with grace and peace), they still had LOTS and LOTS of suffering. It's just that they counted the suffering as joy, since it was in union with Christ's suffering. Complicated and beautiful, and I don't have first hand knowledge of that type of joy and holiness, ha!

Anyway, hard to write in a little comment box, but your comment has made me realize that I need to go back and read what I recommended, ha! It's been years, and I remember it being so rich and deep that it changed me. I think I have been very lax lately!