joy

The Power of And

The power of and: Bonnie and Clyde.  Chocolate and peanut butter.  Bert and Ernie.  They just go together, right?  The “and” works because we know (or have at least learned from others) that they fit together.  You can have one without the other but most would say neither would be quite as good or complete.

 

“And” is good.  “And” is how it should be.

But sometimes in life, we encounter circumstances that simultaneously press on both joy and sadness, hope and fear, relief and great grief.  Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.

Avenues Counseling

You just had a baby; you are excited to be a mom and also really sad to lose the independence and freedom you used to have. You have a workaholic dad who doesn’t always have time for you; you love and respect him and have also been really hurt by him.  Your spouse just lost a long battle with cancer; you are devastated by the loss and also relieved that you are no longer overwhelmed by being the 24/7 caregiver.

Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.  And in the midst of trying to make sense of them, we hear those voices in our head (or perhaps very audibly from those around us) that only one side of that “and” is the acceptable response or proper set of emotions to feel given the circumstance you are walking through. The way you “should” feel.  So the other, very real side of the “and” gets stuffed down inside with a sufficient dose of shame heaped on top.  It’s not allowed to be felt or talked about or acknowledged with anyone.  What would they think if they knew? How can both of these seemingly conflicting feelings be real?

For those of you who resonate with this, what would it look like for you to allow yourself to sit in the tension between your “and”? To be honest with yourself to see that you are feeling both the “acceptable” response to your circumstance as well as the “unacceptable” or less acknowledged response.  And to give yourself room to feel both sides of your “and”.  To grieve where there is sadness and identify what has been lost.  To rejoice where there is goodness or something gained. And to realize that giving way to one emotion does not negate the very real experience of or reality of the other.

And when you encounter a friend experiencing an emotion that “shouldn’t” be felt, I encourage you to sit and listen. To take a moment to put yourself in their shoes…really in their shoes.  And consider whether you might also be feeling a similar seemingly conflict of emotions. And then give them room to experience both sides of their “and”.

The power of “and” is freedom – freedom from shame, freedom to be honest, and freedom to be whole.

 

By Melinda Seley, PLPC

Sweet Sorrow

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Living in this world means living in the tension between good and evil, love and sorrow, joy and pain.  It is to experience the pleasant comfort of cuddling with your spouse on the couch and to ache with the beauty of the moment, while knowing that the moment must inevitably end.  It is to experience the trauma of loss and death and to know that growth and wisdom often come through pain.  Juliet loves the sweetness of Romeo’s affection as they say “good night” and yet must release him for a time to do without it.

To deny or diminish either of the parts is to live out of balance.  To pretend there is no pain is to smother and  invalidate your genuine and legitimate grief.  To live in the pessimism that says “good is always crushed” is to smother real and life-giving joy.  We can exist in either of these out-of-balance ways, but we cannot truly live.

To love is to risk loss, and the more we love, the more pain we experience in the loss.  Intimacy requires vulnerability, and the more open and emotionally naked we become with the other, the greater the closeness and experience of connection.  We live in a world of friction, and yet within the friction there is heat and light and life itself.

If you are protecting yourself from either of these elements, consider that a full, rich experience of life in this world is only possible when we acknowledge the truth of sorrow and loss while holding on to solid hope that there is good and light in the world at the same time.

Feeling Better is Not Always Better

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

In order to experience life more richly and more fully, you must become a student of your own heart and mind.  Many of us walk through life working very hard to feel happy and to not feel sad.  It is a human instinct.  When we feel happy, we accept it as normal and good.  When we feel pain or sorrow, we try to avoid it, snuff it, or overcome it because on some level we believe that it is not normal and therefore it is bad. There is little examination of how joy or sorrow take shape in our own hearts.  This leads us to a blandness of experience that we find acceptable only because we have not tasted the richness that is possible.

Let me explain.  When we feel sadness, our first instinct is often to try to get happy.  It seems foolish to allow the sadness to stay.  If we can’t “get happy”, we wonder what is wrong with us… which leads to more sadness, and even to shame.  We try to anesthetize the pain with all kinds of things, from shopping to substances to adrenaline rushes.  Somehow the sadness flattens all of these eventually.  Our attempts to feel better are not what they cracked up to be.  We need something different, something more authentic.

What if, instead of running from the sadness we acknowledge it and not only allow it to stay, but poke at it, study it?  What if we learn what it is really about, how it works, why it is there?  This is not an attempt to make it better.  Rather it is an attempt to know it more fully, to give it room to exist.

“Why on earth would I do that?!” you might ask.  The answer is simple: sadness is normal.  If you have lost your job or a loved one, had a friend move away, had a car crash, or had a child move on to college, the sadness you feel is supposed to be there.  It is a normal emotional response to loss.  If you fight it, you will lose.

Rather than fighting it, I suggest making friends with it.  Observe and experience your feelings at the same time.  Get to know it.  Learn how it works in you.  Allow it to be present, and actually feel it for a change.

Do not only do this with sadness.  Do this with joy and contentment and peace as well.  Instead of just rolling past it, pause and examine it.  Feel it more fully.  Know why it is there and how it comes to be.  Pick apart why the joke was funny to you, explore the layers of irony or innuendo.

In short, become a student of your own heart.  Don’t measure yourself against others’ reactions or patterns: they are not you.  Be yourself, and be yourself more fully. Stop striving for the illusion of perpetual happiness, and strive to know the full range of human experience on a deeper level.

The Cubs Killed my Fandom

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I grew up in Chicago watching the Cubs play baseball.  As a kid, I remember hating the fact that baseball interrupted my afternoon cartoons all the time (this was before Wrigley had lights). I watched some of the games, and I remember sometimes getting excited when they would get ahead.  But inevitably, they blew it in the 8th or the 9th, and the disappointment was bitter.  In 1984 (Yes, I had to look that up: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHC/), they came close to winning it all, but they blew that, too.  I haven’t “followed” them, or anyone else, since.

Because of recurring disappointment, I lost my enthusiasm for sports.  I do not consider myself a “fan” of any team.  There are few names and no stats that are readily recognizable to me.  The only reason I know Pujols plays first base is because I live in Saint Louis, and I went to a game once when my son won free tickets for us.  There are other factors that have influenced my lack of affiliation with the sporting world, but I credit the Cubs with most of it: one can only handle so much disappointment before shutting those feelings down.

The trouble is that I don’t experience the high of a close game, the joy of celebrating a victory pulled from the jaws of defeat.  When the Cards suddenly hit their hot streak this year and pulled out a win for the Wild Card slot (I confess that I don’t really know what that even means), I nodded and smiled.  When the Rays did the same (and I likewise confess that I didn’t know there was a major league baseball team named the Rays until earlier this year), I have friends in Tampa whose celebrations resounded on Facebook.  I nodded and smiled.

A basic principle that is demonstrated by this story is that risk and disappointment seem to be inseparable from joy.  We cannot shut down disappointment without likewise shutting down joy.  Joy and pain operate on the same switch. We tend to protect ourselves from hurt, which is natural and helpful in the short term.  When this shutting down becomes a way of life, however, it robs us of our joy in the long run.

People let us down.  People harm us.  Trusting others with our hearts and with our dreams often leads to pain.   We rightly withhold ourselves from those who recklessly and selfishly feed upon us.  When we generalize this distrust (“All men are predators.”, “All women are emasculating.”, “Trust no one.”, “Look out for number one because no one else will.”) we begin to lose our capacity to experience joy.   We lose out when we do not risk entrusting ourselves to anyone out of fear that they, too, will hurt us.

It seems like the greater risk, the longer wait, and the deeper disappointment all lead to a reciprocally greater joy. I think of the Red Sox when they finally broke the curse of the Bambino (and I don’t really know why he cursed them).  The fans spilled into the streets for hours and days.  Smiles, laughter, and an entire city’s communal joy resounded.  I can’t imagine what Chicago will look like if that ever happens for the Cubs.  It will be a madhouse.  I will likely smile and nod.

What parts of your heart are you withholding, and from whom?  Where is your joy deadened?  Is life kind of flat for you?  When was the last time a celebratory shout left your lips before you realized it?  When have you felt your pulse quicken, or realized that there was a goofy grin glued to your face? These are just some diagnostic questions to help you sort out the places you are hiding from risk and pain at the expense of your joy.

Will I ever be a fan again?  Maybe.  Honestly, it probably won’t be with the Cubs.  I might risk it for a team that won’t interrupt my cartoons, or one that wins more than once a century.  I do, however, envy those Die Hard Cubs fans if and when their curse is broken (or when the Illuminati finally decide to take pity and let them win, depending on your conspiracy theory subscription).  I envy them the exponential joy they will experience. They have been waiting and hoping faithfully for a long time.  The fans deserve it.  Some call them fools, but I laud them for their persistence and loyalty.  It will be a mind-bending ride.

Technological Food for Thought

By: Katy Martin, LPC


I’m sure that everyone, by this time, has heard that Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, has passed away after a long battle with cancer.  The news has been everywhere: websites, newsfeeds, facebook, emails, tv, etc.

I find it ironic that I heard the news via my husband’s AM radio as he listened to the Cardinals game, but that’s beside the point.

To be honest, I knew nothing about him prior to this week.  Sure, I know he was a genius and that he was probably beyond rich.  I’m sad that it was in his passing that I learned so much more.

Steve Jobs really was a genius, a creative genius, who worked hard and claimed to be living his dream.  He had a family whom he talked about loving very much.  He was adopted as a baby, given a home.  He has had a huge impact on technology as we see it now.  His creations and innovations were his passion and truly exciting to him.  Media is painting the picture that he lived a full, rich life.


As I reflect on the impact this man’s life and passing appear to have, I wonder what kind of impact we are all making.  Do you live with the same passion?  Do you find joy in life?  Are you accomplishing what you would like to accomplish?  Or are you just trying to survive each day and maybe looking forward to the next big thing?

I didn’t personally know Steve Jobs, but I still can’t help believe that he really did love life and made the most of his time here on earth.



The good news: every day is a new day.  We have the opportunity to create goals, fulfill dreams, and really love the people who are around us.  We can seek forgiveness, give forgiveness, and find emotional healing.


The best news: Jesus states in John 10:10 that He came to give us life and life to the FULL.  Do you believe this?  What would it look like to invite God into the struggle you have to find joy and fulfillment?  


What would it take for you to begin living a full life?  After all, today is a new day and tomorrow begins a new week.

Facing Plenty

By Jonathan Hart, LPC


Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


The concept of “facing plenty” has bugged me for a long time.  We don’t often use the language of “facing…” when we are talking about a good thing.  “I was facing a time of wealth and comfort, but I made it through by the grace of God.”  But this is the language Paul uses: plenty and abundance are something to be faced, in a parallel way to facing lack and poverty.  There are unique challenges in having plenty and abundance, and they can be as difficult as having want and need.


Part of the challenge, I think, comes from our habit of thinking that plenty and abundance are “the norm” and that anything less is a burden to be borne and overcome as soon as possible.  I can’t imagine relating to abundance in this way.  “I have too much money.  I have to get rid of it somehow and get back to scraping by from check to check!”  How many people are dropping into horrific debt in order to “maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed”?  


When we are in pain, grief, loss, hurt, or distress, we do one thing uncommonly well: we complain.  We articulate our pain, we feel every inch of it and talk about it in the hopes of finding someone who can identify with it and tell us it’s OK to feel that way about it.  What if we “complained” about our abundance the same way?  What if we treated our abundance and surplus the same way we treated our challenges and loss?  We don’t often do this because of our misconception that plenty and abundance are the norm: we are entitled to them and therefore they are not noteworthy.

I encourage many people to “wallow” in their good times, to store them up in memory and savor them richly.  I encourage people to concentrate on being fully present in the joy of the moment and holding on to it so that when it passes (as it inevitably will), we can more fully recall it and taste it again in our mind.  Articulate and “complain” about how good things are, much as we articulate and complain about our pain, because joy and pain alike are part of living in a broken world.

I am not talking about disassociating from joy and pain, as much of Christianity is taught to do: “Times are bad, but the joy of the Lord is my strength!!  I don’t feel the pain because Jesus is so good!”  I am actually encouraging us to feel the joy – and the pain – more fully.

This practice can give us much more resilience and strength to last through the difficult times.  We can soothe our hearts and minds on the fact that pain and shortfall are not all that has ever been, that resources come and go, that pain, like joy, is temporary in this life.  The seasons continue to turn, and life is more than this present moment;  the joy of last year still exists, even though this moment is hard, and the joy that I knew then will come again in time.

This practice helps us hold on more tenaciously to times of plenty as well.  We can practice the recognition that this joy is temporary and that it is a gift, rather than an entitlement. Nothing draws our attention to life more than a death in the family.  Nothing raises our awareness of the value of our spouse or children than to hear that a friend has lost those most precious to them.  If we can practice this mental discipline of savoring our joy and plenty because it is temporary, we will live and enjoy it much more fully.