There’s something so comforting about sitting in my “bedroom,” the one I grew up in, with its ridiculous amount of childhood stuffed animals still lining shelves and its hot pink and yellow mural my brother painted for my 17th birthday forever quoting John Keats: “More happy love! More happy, happy love!” I’m home. August and I spent the day flying to Texas and we will spend the next ten days lazing in the comfort of it all. For the past week, I’ve been daydreaming about the smell of a West Texas thunderstorm. It’s been years since I’ve been in Amarillo during April: felt the hair stand up on my neck, the thick cool of the air, the forced slow motion of near-storm air. So, I was thrilled with the turbulence we hit when landing and thrilled with the sun-coated rain we walked into post flight. I love my hometown.
I have some big plans for the next ten days. Number one: finish some of these freaking books that have been sitting on my “Monkish Reading” list since I started this blog. Top of that list: Henri Nouwen’s Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective.
This book is not only worth reading because it has the words Fecundity and Ecstasy in the title, but also because it’s so good I don’t want to finish. It’s so rich I want to quote the whole thing on this blog. (So far so good.) I have the same problem I had as a fourth grader devouring chapter books and boring my parents into zombiehood with every detail of the story at dinner: “And then Margaret said to Gina…”
So, lean over, I’ll just say this quickly: Read Lifesigns, if only because Nouwen says this about joy:
“Many people hardly believe anymore in the possibility of a truly joy-filled life. They have more or less accepted life as a prison and are grateful for every occasion that creates the illusion of the opposite: a cruise, a suspense novel, a sexual experience, or a few hours in a heightened state of consciousness. This is happiness in the house of fear, a happiness which is ‘made in the world’ and thus is neither lasting nor deeply satisfying” (84).
I’ve been really happy during this thirtieth year of life. The move has forced our little family into sweet Sabbath, a type of rest that I would never have made for myself before. I’m happy that we’ve had it pretty easy. I’m happy that my son is so fantastic and that I love being a mom. I’m happy that my husband honestly thinks I’m the dearest and most lovely person he knows.
So, if I didn’t have a memory of darker years when anxiety ruled my brain (even while married to the same great man and during a seemingly painless season of life), when my go-to mode was one of self-accusation and fear, I would read this passage and move on. But, I know the truth. As happy as my life is, if that happiness is based only around ease, I’m still living in what Nouwen calls “the house of fear.”
It seems to me that it’s not always one or the other. There are days, moments even, when I grab hold of joy outside of the illusion of bliss. I get it. I can see the world being restored into something whole and I can see myself in it.
And there are days I linger in my brain. (My brain hates me, by the way.) On those days everything good feels fleeting and ruled by the fear of its loss.
I used to think there were joyful people and joyless people. I think I’m changing my mind. There are only broken people who choose daily where to park their house: Hope or Fear.
What about you? What do you believe about joy?