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.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
I’m not really sure you’re even listening right now. It certainly doesn’t seem like it. I’m done. I can’t do this any more. If you want it done, you have to do it. Whatever you are doing with me, get it over with because this hurts too much.
I’m angry, and I’m pretty sure I’m angry with you. I don’t understand. I feel like you’ve turned your head and you don’t see me anymore, you’re not listening, and you don’t care. Everything I’ve ever learned about you says you are kind and loving and you want the best for me, and I’d like to believe that, but I can’t seem to bring myself to risk it. If I believe that, then it means that the hell I am living through right now is somehow for my good. I want something else. Not this.
So if you are who and what you say you are, and if you really do care about me and you really do hear me, then … I don’t know … do something. Show up. Give me something to work with. I’m tired of hurting, and I am utterly helpless. You’re all I really have, and I’m scared you’re not there. Amen.
I know a lot of people who would be scared to pray a prayer like this. It doesn’t feel respectful. It feels like asking for a lightning strike. “I can’t be angry with God! I can’t tell him I’m hopeless… Faith is always trusting him, and this isn’t trusting at all!” Yet I think there is more faith in a prayer like this than in many that are said on Sunday morning.
The thing that makes a prayer like this a prayer of faith is the fact that it is a prayer: it is addressed to God. It may be said through clenched teeth, but it is a prayer, and prayer is an act of faith, especially when it expresses doubt, fear, and pain.
God is big enough and real enough to handle our doubts. He can handle our anger and fearful lashing out. He is the kind father who absorbs the tearful, angry pummeling of his small child, lovingly contains the flailing fists, and soaks up the tears with his shirt. He is still present, he is still mindful, and he still loves his child.
So when you feel your darkest hours upon you, turn to him. Shout at the heavens if need be. He loves you as you are, especially when you are angry and doubtful. He desires relationship with you: he wants to hear your heart in whatever state it happens to be at the moment.
Do not be afraid.
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.
By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC