Given that I tend to be a woman of few words, and those (usually) very carefully chosen, one might think I was fond of aphorisms and pithy statements. I mean, all that meaning and emotion smashed into a tiny, compact little saying? A veritable treasure trove of wisdom!
Actually, I can’t stand them. At first glance, they seem like wisdom:
- A man is known by the company he keeps. (If this is true, how is Jesus known?)
- Any port in a storm. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered some ports that would have caused much more damage than simply weathering the storm).
- Crime does not pay. (It can, if you don’t get caught).
- Live every day as if it were your last. (If I did that, it probably would be my last day).
- Opportunity never knocks twice. (Recent experience with my husband turning down one job opportunity only to have it offered again— and then accepting it—- proves this one may not always be accurate).
I’ll admit, I have occasionally been guilty of employing these seeming truths. In fact, most of them do contain some truth… but often with an equal measure of untruth. Life is just too complex and paradoxical to fit neatly into such simplistic phrases.
One particular “truism” that’s been grating on me lately is the following:
“The greater the sorrow, the greater the joy”.
It’s such a bittersweet, yet comforting thought, really: If I go through extreme pain and sorrow in life, it means I will have greater joy and happiness in life. It puts life in a neat little “yin-yang” or karma box, where the bad will be equaled or counter-balanced by the good.
Oh, if only life were that….balanced. In reality, some people encounter sorrow after sorrow, with very little joy- if any. Other people go through life experiencing very great joy without ever really experiencing an equal measure of sorrow. And yet other people go through life imagining every sorrow that could ever happen to them, living in deep fear and never experiencing the joy around them.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just splitting hairs. Regardless, there is some truth, and here is where I think it lies: If you numb yourself so that you will not feel sorrow, or anger, or pain, you will also be unable to feel happiness or joy. Numbness is, after all, devoid of feeling or sensation. So, to feel true joy, you have to be willing to feel sorrow as well.
During the last few years at The Ministry, I was pretty much a shell of myself. In order to survive, if you can even call it that, I buried every feeling of distrust, anger, depression, etc. deep in side of me. Being The Vault, I was not only gifted at keeping other people’s secrets, but I was also quite gifted at keeping my own thoughts and feelings a secret from everyone…including myself. Now, it really is difficult to completely numb oneself, as the feelings we deny end up fermenting like rotten fish (lutefisk, anyone?) inside of us. Eventually that lid is going to pop off, and whew! Watch out for the stench.
Even when I did start to admit that I had been and was angry and depressed at what had happened, I still denied myself the freedom to actually feel it. It was more of an intellectual exercise. I think I was afraid of what would happen if I did let myself feel it— especially the anger. Maybe I speak only for myself, but I think that it is common for Christians to think being angry is a sin. Let me assure you, it isn’t. It can however lead us to sin, if we don’t confront it head on.
I may have waited a little too long to uncork the anger lid, as I did say and do things I regret. Let’s not mince words: I was angry AND I sinned. Fortunately, where there is true repentance, there is forgiveness, and I have been able to let go and move on. And now I feel joy again. The kind of joy where you find yourself smiling for no reason. The kind of joy where you feel like dancing to your iPod down the middle of a crowded street. I haven’t actually done that, mind you, but I have been tempted.
Do I feel more joy now, because I have felt great anger and sorrow? No…but I do feel. And that, at this point, is better than fighting to remain numb.