Happy New Year!
Aren’t we supposed to be driving flying cars or something a la the Jetsons? Lol.
In many ways, I’m humbled, and dare I say, excited to see another year. As grateful as I am for every blessin’ and lesson, I can’t say that I wasn’t happy to see 2015 leave.
Just a tough year in many areas of my life. But now that 2016 has arrived, I’ve decided to set one particular goal. Something that has been sorely missing in my life as of late.
No, it’s not a NY Times bestseller. I mean, yes to that, but no, that’s not what I’m talking about. This year, the goal is…
Yep, that’s it. That’s my word. I know. It’s not that deep. That’s intentional. Just #alljoy, #allthetime.
See, if 2015 taught me anything it was that joy is NOT the same as happiness. I mean, happiness is cool but it’s really, really temporary. Joy goes deeper. It’s not subject to my circumstances. It can exist in spite of them. Joy exists despite my student loans. It’s willing to hang out even when I might be inclined to punch someone in the throat. In fact, it just might be joy that prevents me from doing such an awful yet strangely satisfying thing. Lol.
(You did see the name of the blog, right? Tilted Halo and all that jazz?)
I’m reading a book—of course I am— called Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest and the author, Bonnie Gray, is really helping me set the tone for my #alljoy campaign this year. Her take on what joy looks like and why it’s missing from so many of our lives is like drinking sweet tea or lemonade on a hot summer day: refreshing. It’s also as uncomfortable as sitting on a tack.
Most good things are that way, I guess.
Anyway, in the book, she recounts a story of when she was child caught in the middle of her parents ugly divorce.
Hanging up high, perched on a special display, was the most beautiful outfit I ever saw: soft bubble-gum pink corduroy jacket with silver buckles and matching pants…
As I stood there at the checkout register, watching my father pay, I couldn’t believe it. The whole outfit? My heart was bursting, full of something beautiful. New. All for me. I felt so happy hugging that big bag, walking down those fancy wax polished floors, as my father held the door open. Never in a thousand years would I have guessed I’d never even have the chance to wear that jacket and those pants out in broad daylight. That it would be thrown in the garbage later that night. We didn’t have a garbage disposal back then. So my momma took whatever left over gunk was found in the sink and dumped it on top of my outfit with the the tags still hanging off of it.
Maybe this is where I first learned how completely lonely a feeling it is to hope for joy. [It was] the beginning of how I grew to believe living for moments of joy only meant leaving room for disappointment.
Gray was left with what she calls a “joy wound.”
But wait, wasn’t that just happiness, you ask? Surely an outfit doesn’t translate into true joy?
Well, I’m not too sure. Look at all the things she associated with that outfit. The love of her father. The knowledge of being worthy of someone’s love and affection. Feeling special and worth the expense. This is the stuff of joy. For a child, these are core needs in their development and fulfilling them is likely to fill their souls with a sense of authentic delight—joy— that supersedes the momentary happiness the actual item brings.
When her mother destroyed those clothes, she destroyed all those core needs. Little Bonnie learned to fear real, pure joy. She learned to not aspire to the feelings that come with real joy because the pain left behind when someone tramples on your joy was too much to bear. She started telling herself that she was not worthy of that feeling and as she later notes in the book, she became incredibly proficient at things that don’t necessarily bring her joy but that would prove to the world that she was finally worthy; that she was enough.
This is why joy feels dangerous. Because for some of us, joy is connected to times in our lives where it was taken away or ruined, when a simple moment of happiness was decimated…I didn’t want to have my joy end up in the trash again.
I totally get this. As I’ve been recently escavating my own life through prayer, meditation, and therapy, I’ve come to realize that I have my own joy wounds. Memories of moments when my joy was trampled. Times when the pain was so great that I would run from anything that even remotely looked like it could give me that same feeling. Those wounds played a big part in how I chose to live my life until recently: anxious, busy, forever in “prove myself” mode, loving deeply but unable to connect that love to anything and anyone because of the deep wall of fear I’d built in my soul.
But the truth is, I am loved. And joy never left me. Even when it seemed like people, places, and things had trampled it down into near non-existence, it was always there. Waiting for me to feed it with goodness. With rest. With forgiveness. With love. And that’s what I aim to do this year. To stop starving my joy and start feeding it. It’s time to turn my capacity to give and receive love from an intellectual awareness to a soul enriching knowledge.
But that’s not all. Ms. Bonnie Gray’s book continues with the nuggets of wisdom. In a way I’d never heard before, she compares loving ourselves and tending our joy wounds with the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.
…Jesus told him [a lawyer who came to speak with him] a story of a nobody on his way to Jericho. He didn’t have a name. He was just a man, beaten, and lying on the side of the road. Nobody stopped to give him any attention. He was just damaged goods to people who had places to go and important names meet.
I’ve always read this story seeing the wounded stranger as someone else. Not anymore. The wounded stranger has always been me. It’s the part of me I’ve neglected, stripped bare..That joy-wounded me is a time-waster to the Levite busy getting back to his temple duties. The joy-wounded me is an unacceptable risk to the priest, who doesn’t dare touch anything lifeless. I am both Levite and priest [too].
I promise you…I have years of Sunday school and bible studies under my belt and I never heard this parable positioned this way.
Again, I get it.
I AM the wounded samaritan beaten up by life experiences and physically sidetracked on the side of the road on my journey. I need tending. I need care. My joy wounds are bleeding out.
But I am ALSO the priest, passing myself on that same journey. Thinking I can’t be seen tending to that part of myself. Worried that exposing those wounds will make me look ungodly. Tainted.
I am ALSO the Levite. I’m too busy to tend to my own wounds. I never have time to stop and deal with the pain. I’m unwilling to press pause on my destination-centric ambitions long enough to allow another part of myself to heal.
But thank God I’m also the fourth character in this story. If I choose to be, I am the Good Samaritan. Though this part of me is truly a foreigner to the other parts of me, I can take the chance to stop and tend to my own wounds. I can do what I can—what God has already placed in my reach—to encourage my own restoration. I can make it easy on myself. I can rest.
Whew! I mean, really 2016? Revelation is mutha.
So yeah, it’s time. It’s time to reconcile all these many parts of myself. Starting with rest.
God’s grace, I think, is found in His rest. And from that rest comes an unmovable, unshakeable joy.
So, yes, this whole self-care thing is real. Particularly in light of my work. As I write about race and justice and culture and shame and taking back one’s narrative, I have to be willing to stop and care for that part of myself that is wounded.
Like the parable, that might mean a stay at the inn (Ahem…Marriott? Hilton? Y’all listening?).
Maybe it’s just taking the time to occasionally press pause on my ambitious pursuits and all my skewed notions of godliness.
Maybe it’s about actually seeing that little brown girl from KY who, despite any number of accomplishments, has had pain and fear sidetrack her for far too long. She needs to know that she is loved too. Her wounds are not invisible to God. And now they are no longer invisible to me.
Let’s get it!
Attribution: The cover photo “Joy Map” is from Healing Through the Arts