Life doesn’t have to be easy to be joyful

Remember my little mention last week that a film crew is coming to capture my every move this Wednesday? My remorse has only grown deeper, my despair more multi-layered, my impending sense of doom more distinct (I now hear the Jaws theme every time I look at that day on the calendar). As of yesterday afternoon, I’d decided that my decision to agree to this must have been a subconscious attempt to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for the WORST IDEA EVER category.

Yesterday evening I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror, and my haggard appearance only reminded me of how very tired, achy and…tired I feel. I looked around the house at all the clutter that’s not going to be cleared out as planned, the holes in the wall that we don’t have the time or energy to fix, the stains in the carpet that will continue to look like a failed modern art experiment was done in my living room. And, most disturbingly, I thought of how I’d huffed and puffed through the day, constantly needing to rest. For a million dollars I couldn’t have pretended to be peppy and positive. And THIS is what is going to be held out as the life of a person of faith?!

After freaking out to a friend, freaking out to my husband, freaking out on Twitter (and, umm, then getting distracted and wasting a bunch of time online), it finally occurred to me to pray. And so I did, and, whatddaya know, it actually calmed me down and gave me a sense of clarity. Almost immediately, the thought occurred to me:

Maybe all that is the point!

Maybe it is exactly in God’s plan that my life would be documented when I don’t have things perfectly under control. Because it’s the only way to highlight what I believe is the biggest visible difference in my life since my conversion: my joy.

If a film crew had wanted to shoot a day in my life eight years ago, it would have been no trouble to present a very appealing image. They could have shown me whipping together a breakfast at 10:00 AM in my downtown loft, using the $10 carton of uber-organic omega-3 free range Himalayan eggs I’d bought at Whole Foods. Then a workout in the building gym with my personal trainer, a walk down Congress Avenue to meet with one of my freelance clients, a stop at Starbucks for a latte, and then back at the loft to meet with the staff we’d hired for one of our summer parties that was to take place on the beautiful rooftop deck that night.

Contrast that to the footage they’ll get tomorrow with me looking as tired as I feel, pregnant with my fifth kid in six years, in a cramped (and messy) house in the ‘burbs where the sounds of screaming are as frequent as the ominous smells of diapers in need of changing. No question, my life is harder now. There is less comfort and more suffering (to use the term loosely), a whole lot less luxury and a whole lot more sacrifice.

Am I happier now? On the whole, absolutely, yes. However, if you were to have polled me on a minute-to-minute basis in 2003 with the question “Are you happy right now?” and conducted the same poll on a minute-to-minute basis last week, I would probably answer in the affirmative less often now than I did then (if nothing else, about half the time my current answer would be, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU BECAUSE EVERYONE IS SCREAMING.”) I am pushed to my limit more often these days than back when I was an atheist.

But here, I believe, is the metric that really matters: Do I have more joy now than I did then? And that’s where the contrast is off the charts.

Joy is something different than happiness, and it’s a whole lot different than surface-level pleasure or physical comfort. It’s something divine in origin, not subject to the ups and downs of human emotions, a kind of ecstatic contentment and explosive peace that can only come from contact with the Source of all life and love himself. I may have more challenges now than I used to, but they also don’t bother me as much as they would have before. When I would be in a mildly bad mood in my old life, it was like my discontent would sink right down to my bones. There was nothing to pad my soul, so even the slightest bumps in the road would rattle me to the core of my being. Now it’s like my soul is bubble-wrapped with joy. Even on the worst day, there’s only so much that my worldly circumstances can get me down. Sure, I still notice and feel and dislike the bad emotions, but they no longer have the power over me that they once did, because underneath it all, where there was once nothingness, there is now joy.

It’s a beautiful thing. But here’s the catch: the more intimately we know Christ, the more joy we’ll have…but Christ is the very embodiment of self-sacrifice, of pouring out oneself for the sake of others. In other words, going to fancy meetings in skyscrapers and driving a nice car and hosting luxurious parties are probably not going to bring you a whole lot of joy. But living a life ordered toward the service of others will. So, even though I have a long way to go in the selflessness department, I make a whole lot more sacrifices for others now than I did before my conversion. And I’m not joyful in spite of that fact, but because of it.

The more I think about this, the more ready I feel to welcome those cameras tomorrow. I think I’m okay with my life being documented the way it really is. Because, if it all goes well, they’ll end up showing a hugely pregnant woman waddling around her not-super-clean house, sometimes getting frustrated with all the chaos, walking past old pictures of herself where she was obviously thinner and richer, and it will be the story of someone who has learned that life doesn’t have to be easy to be joyful.

Comments

  1. says

    thank you! this is so true. God is good.
    St. Francis has a definition of perfect joy also, which you have probably already read.

  2. Carla says

    yes, joy is the fruit of Christian living… People mention that I always seem so happy, I tell them it is the joy of my heart showing on my face…

    Then they find out we are adopting a special needs child (our #7) and that REALLY freaks them out!

    I will have less money, less free time, less sleep…and I will be even MORE joyful!!!

    Let’s show the world how it is reasly done! Have a great day tomorrow Jen!

    Carla
    http://www.bringinghenryhome.blogspot.com

  3. says

    I love this! So many times these days, everyone’s all about what is gonna make ME happy RIGHT NOW. And most people don’t have a very good understanding of the difference between happiness and joy. And our society’s idea of what it means to be happy is skewed toward such materialistic goals and the things OF THIS WORLD instead of the things out of this world and better than this world.

  4. says

    As someone just emerging from first trimester morning sickness with twins, and nine other children, you described my life to a tee. Thankfully, you put it all into perspective for me too during a time when potty training toddlers, teething baby and arguing siblings were drowning everything else out. Thank you.

  5. Maureen says

    So true. My single girl days of vacations, shopping and eating out when I wasn’t working crazy shifts are now referred to as my jaded woman days. Now I spend my days wiping butts and snotty noses, splitting up squabbling siblings and unsuccessfully trying to stay ahead of the mess. Not only am I more content and joyful interiorly but we long to be blessed with another phone call that a baby needs a home thus making our house a little more loud, messy, crowded and often stinky. Should we get that call the world will call us crazy but we will call ourselves grateful to God for His generosity to us.

  6. says

    Always be ready to give a reason for your joy!
    Most of my life people have often asked me why I am always smiling… It must come from my Joy in Christ, because I don’t even realize I’m smiling most of the time!

    But then there are the times when I am not smiling, and my husband asks me what’s wrong and I answer, “I’m smiling on the inside!”

    So keep “smiling on the inside” with your joy in Christ, even if the outer layers look a little… worn out.

    You are in my daily prayers!

  7. says

    Wonderful post! I have been learning this in a particular way for the past 18 months or so. (And my house sounds a lot like yours in the clutter department!)

    I know of a translation of the Bible that exchanged “blessed” for “happy” – as in “happy are those who are poor in spirit” and “happy are those who mourn”. (GAH) It’s really one of the most striking misunderstandings about the difference between feeling blessed, or full of joy, and the emotion of being happy.

  8. Kat says

    I like this post. It reminds me of the saying, “Less Martha and more Mary” that comes from the book of Luke in chapter ten. It’s such a great reminder that what matters more is the state and condition of one’s heart rather than the condition of her home. I think Satan can easily trap women into fearing man rather than fearing God when it comes to her role as a homemaker/wife/mother. But it is not about how well we can appear to others, whether it be on a TV show, to our friends, to our family members, or to ourselves. God knows the real us anyway so it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the world thinks. What’s the use in being a pretender? Sometimes we are so worried about accurately and appropriately portraying the “right” image or standard as a “person of faith” to others. And sometimes our intentions are good- we want to encourage and to teach, not simply be seen in a good light to others which is based on sinful pride. We should work to please our Audience of One rather than be worried about the world.

  9. says

    Yes, yes, yes!

    And joy isn’t a Hallmark-card emotion but a state of being. It’s grounded, not generated.

    Praying that you’ll be who you are tomorrow, and that the light we see in you will shine effortlessly through.

  10. Kathryn says

    Wow, this really resonated with me, thank you. Your blog really provides fellowship and encouragement for a lot of my struggles with faith, vocation, my weaknesses, and my real joy.

  11. says

    I’m pretty sure my coworkers have a raised eyebrow or two over the past minute I just spent crying in my cube while reading this post. It could be my pregnancy hormones but this is yet another reason why I as a cradle Catholic find fellow Catholics like you to be so inspirational. I feel like converts have such a deeper sense of appreciation for our faith and I admire that so much. Thank you for reminding me of how blessed I am to have my faith.

  12. says

    While in college, I read CS Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. He highlight a similar difference between happiness and joy and it radically changed my life. For the first time, I connected real Joy with my faith rather than my more temporal situation. Thank you for your post, it motivated me to revisit that book in a moment that I needed the reminder.

  13. Theresa in Alberta says

    um,,you will advise us when and where and what time this show will air!
    I CAN’T HEAR YOU BECAUSE EVERYONE IS SCREAMING,,,that looks to me as a great title for your book,,or maybe your 2nd one 😉

    • Brad says

      “Maybe it is exactly in God’s plan that my life would be documented when I don’t have things perfectly under control” – I totally agree with this. I really only grow with struggle. Painful yes, but needed. Its much easier to sit back and watch the world go by.

  14. says

    This reminds me so much of a couple chapters in One Thousand Gifts! Such a great book if you haven’t read it yet. I have so much of those chapters underlined. This post made me laugh a lot more than the book does, though. This sounds so much like me!! :-)

  15. Eugenia says

    I agree wholeheartedly. I’m exhausted post-reversion and therefore have children but I’m no longer melancholic and aimless. God is good!
    “…my fifth kid in six years…” God bless you! I so appreciate the sacrifice my parents made in giving me four sisters that I adore.

  16. says

    I needed to read this today; I am having The Mean Reds. Which means I am feeling like a frumpy moron, and wishing I had a latte and a fabulous handbag in my hands rather than a crying baby and another pacifier!

    I admire you so much, and hope I can tap into some joy soon, I am desperate for it!

  17. Josephene Kealey says

    What I want to know is, what are you gonna wear?!

    Have a good time tomorrow. Remember to laugh a lot! It’ll make you look younger and it’ll cheer you up through the smelly diapers and moments of exasperation. And be humbled by the experience (sounds like it’ll be humbling, in the first place!).

    I shall be praying! You go, t.v.-personality-girl! I just had a funny image of you in new shoes at least, sipping milk from a cocktail glass, talking about the theology of the Catholic Body while changing a diaper with the other hand and giving the evil eye to a child who is quietly putting stickers on the camera man’s pants.

  18. Carrie says

    I think you will inspire a lot more people tomorrow by keeping it real. I believe people want to “see normal” because they can relate, and it always takes away pressure. If you were to present a cookie cutter life style like you described above, it would tend to discourage instead of encourage. People would walk away and think, “Wow, I am doing a ton of things wrong! My life is so unlike hers!” haha No… Keep it real, relax, and your joy will shine through! I am sure you are going to do great!

  19. says

    I think I am beginning to understand what you have already grasped. I had a sad and difficult Lent and yet it was a Lent filled with joy. I feel at once filled with joy and empty. My biggest concern is that I don’t know that others see my joy. My tendency is to always be so negative (glass half empty kinda gal). I can’t stand it, but haven’t been successful in changing yet.

  20. says

    Just remember – the camera can’t smell the diapers. :)

    God has asked you to live this life so that He can be glorified. I’m praying the camera captures the joy-in-the-midst-of-chaos that you’ve captured so well with your words.

  21. Heather says

    So well put! I know about the joy but with a couple incredibly frustrating weeks (pregnant with #4 due before the oldest is 4) I was having trouble understanding why I know I would never pick anything else but am still having so many negative emotions. I have been told about the deep Joy Christ gives you when you are doing His will but it is a new experience for me as I am embracing it and the ‘suffering’ more than I ever have before. Thank you for putting it into words. This post really struck home for me today.

    Good luck tomorrow. It will go exactly as God wills it too :)

  22. says

    I think a good title should be “I’m happy, dammit!!!” :) Hugs to you, friend. Less than 24 hours and it will ALL be over. Then you will just be branded for life. I really do like you, ya know. 😉

  23. says

    This is interesting timing for me. I was just thinking back on the years I lived in New York City and remembering how getting my name on a guest list of a trendy club or shopping at a store that was not even in the ball park of affordable provided a false sense of euphoria. But it never lasted, and the crashing down like Cinderella’s coach turned pumpkin at the stroke of Midnight was far worse than whatever few fleeting moments of so-called happiness I (thought) I had. I guess what I’m saying is, thank you for writing this. And also, I hope tomorrow goes well for you!

  24. says

    Jennifer,

    I can totally relate to your situation. As a matter of fact today I was also very down emotionally. But despite my terrible feelings of hopelessness internally I still felt peaceful, and serene. Thanks for articulating so beautifully your suffering in the greater context of Christ’s surpassing peace.

  25. Z says

    Long time reader.

    I just wanted to say what I ask my husband to tell me when I’m feeling anxious — “It’ll be OK.” Somehow it just makes me feel better when he says that as he pats my hand.

    My 2 year old boy also does a sweet number for me — he waddles over, hugs my leg, and says “It’s OK, honey.” :) If I could, I would send my very sensitive two year old to come give your leg a hug.

    As one fellow introvert to another — I know how HUGE this thing is your doing. Very proud. Can’t wait to hear about it!

  26. says

    This topic is very timely. Today I was feeling absolutely exhausted as yesterday I started back at work, a job which involves an insane five hour boat and bus commute both ways. (I think I qualify for the Guinness Book of Records for the worst commute ever….or the stupidest pregnancy-brain decision ever…not sure which one yet.) Just basically feeling like “Argh! I hate my life! I am a mother of a 10 month old who wakes up at 6 on the nose. I’ve become a reno-widow who hasn’t seen her husband since he started putting the flooring in, I’m at the same weight I was when I was 8 months pregnant. Two years ago I was fifty pounds lighter, living a carefree grad-student life in Vancouver and pretty happy. Now, I’m just so, so very very very very tired, and the baby is crawling and finds electrical cords so fascinating…ah boy.

    But actually on the whole my life is a lot more joyous than it used to be. There are moments where it seems to flow. I look at that little girl grinning with her two little bottom teeth, using my legs to pull herself up, wobbling and falling on her butt and I’m just amazed. This is my daughter, and she’s an angel.

  27. says

    Thanks for that GREAT post, and good luck on the show.
    remember that the joy of us all is devided and some time you are in a downfall or going up, either way you just need to stand for few seconds take deep breath and get everything into proportions.

  28. says

    It sounds to me like you aren’t only making progress in the JOY department, but in defeating PRIDE as well. By letting go of the veneer – by choice, by necessity, or even defeat – you have acquiesced on one of the deepest levels. Well done, Jennifer. What has been taking me years (and I’m still not there as I fly about with the vacuum cleaner ten minutes before the guests arrive), you have done at break-neck speed. Thanks for the inspiring post.

  29. Kristine says

    With the time difference, I think I read this before the film crew got there. Just said a little pray for you!

  30. louisa says

    This is a great post, but (admittedly I am probably being really dense) I am confused on how to determine if you have this joy? I am a recent college grad, have a tremendously boring job I don’t like that doesn’t pay well, and live in a town where I know few people and is far from my beloved family. A lot of people have much worse situations than me, and my life is ok, but I am worried that I am not content enough – particularly with my job, I know I am lucky to have a job, but I am pretty unhappy with it. Also, I am a big worrier and am often prone to panicking about the future or becoming convinced that I confessed something wrong, etc. I don’t feel very joyful, and although I try to live my faith, now I am worried I’m not doing it right and am somehow a failed Catholic and am furthermore going to destroy other peoples impressions of the Church as a result of my worry/lack of adequate joy!

    • Wsquared says

      Louisa, joy comes gradually. And I’m a big worrier, too. What makes us worry is when we don’t trust God enough. This isn’t meant to be easy, mind you, so take it slow: when you pray, ask God to help you with a lot of this stuff, in fact all that you’ve written here constitutes a marvellous prayer– what it is that you fear (and why, therefore, you worry), ask him for help in trusting him. I do this a lot: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Don’t worry about what others will say or think. They don’t know your struggles and your soul, but the Lord does.

      God bless!

      • Louisa says

        Wsquared, thank you! I thought everyone else was just non-worriedly trusting God fully, and I was the only one who struggled with worrying about everything! I do pray to overcome my worrying, and I think I’ve made a minute amount of progress, but not too much. Thank you for the advice, I appreciate it.

        • Wsquared says

          My pleasure, Louisa. Glad I could help. Also, another bit of advice: go to Confession regularly; at least once a month. If you haven’t been in a while, go. The sacraments, after all, is where you receive God’s grace, and the sacrament of penance better disposes you toward receiving the Eucharist. He wants to, as the priest told me today, unburden you, so you leave the baggage of your sins in the Confessional with him. This really does help. Another thing that helps is understanding the sacraments more fully. Sometimes, when we don’t understand them as much, they are in danger of becoming routine. This has definitely happened to me. When you begin to comprehend what a great gift they are, and that this is where God wants to nourish your soul, you’ll realize that this how you’ll receive the grace to be joyful. Remember that you aren’t supposed to do this all on your own! Also, everybody’s spiritual journeys are different. We are none of us in the same place at the same time. Take care, and be well. :)

          • Louisa says

            I guess I just got a chance to implement some radical trust in God, as I found out today my contact won’t be renewed and in a few months I will be out of a job! I take back my not liking it! ;). If anyone wouldn’t mind praying that I will find another job, I would really appreciate it.

    • says

      I would like to reiterate what Jennifer said in her post, which is that joy and happiness are two different things. So you can have joy even if if you’re not happy in your current situation, because joy isn’t dependent on your situation. For me, joy is the knowledge that, regardless of what’s going on in my life, there is a God who loves me and has a place in Heaven for me. It’s something that transcends day-to-day worries, because it’s something secure.

      I should add that all this is also not dependent on you doing things “right” or how “well” you live your faith. God’s love is bigger than anything you could ever do or not do, and THAT is something to be joyful about!

    • Gail F says

      Louisa: Nobody experiences joy all the time, by any means! Don’t worry that you don’t have it right now, or that you don’t recognize it if you do. Some times in life are hard — being in a new town, working at a job you don’t like, etc. are very hard and don’t let anyone tell you they’re not. But if all that matters is how “happy” one is every moment of every day, what does that say about people who live through disasters and wars and famines? Are their lives not worth living? Life is about more than happiness, and some people chase happiness at the expense of living. The hard part is finding balance, and if you are just out of college you can’t be expected to have found it yet. You will be okay!

  31. Wsquared says

    Yay! This is a lovely post, and the entire paragraph that you’ve written about joy captures what that’s like so succinctly. I can relate very much to the part about how the slightest negative emotions can sink down to your bones when you don’t have joy, and that now that you do, your soul feels bubble-wrapped with it. I know that feeling for pretty much the same reasons you do: I’ve never called myself an atheist. But I was a cradle Catholic turned attempted agnostic who reverted back, but didn’t know the faith. When one lives as though God doesn’t exist, even if you go to Mass on Sunday, you are functionally an atheist. My conversion is still ongoing, just like everyone’s is. And as it continues, I’ve experienced what it’s like to go from your soul feeling like despair will make the bottom drop out of it, to having that feeling that there is indeed something there to catch me. I feel that joy very actively now, and that bottomless-pit feeling is gone.

  32. says

    You have articulated well what those who criticize “breeders” just don’t understand, and often even refuse to try to.
    Having children is hard work, often dirty, exhausting, repetitive, thankless work but as hard as it can be, the joy and sense of peace and happiness it can be is great. Honestly, if you put the work and the joy on a scale, the joy wins.
    The kicker, especially for busy mom’s, is to let yourself experience the joyful moments. We are so often so busy, so stressed, so worried about the next thing we should be doing or the next place we have to be that we don’t slow down and enjoy the little moments, or even the big ones.

  33. says

    Oh Jenn, please, the last thing we need is yet another Catholic woman pretending she’s got it all together for the sake of evangelization. Life is hard, we are tired. Hopefull nonetheless, but let’s just show things how they are. Fake joy is worse than just a good ol’ bad attitude. 😉

  34. Marion says

    Lots of prayers going up for you today, Jen! There’s a wonderful quote I always remember in situations like these–it came from a mostly paralyzed woman I saw on TV once, who had formerly led a very fashionable life, and she said, “I have realized that I now touch far more people in my brokenness than I ever did in my false-wholeness.” I find that so profound and challenging, especially when I’m tempted to look “falsely whole” to others!

  35. says

    This article is a lot like me in many ways! I can relate entirely as a mom of 6, not being able to keep up with everything and feeling completely overwhelmed. At the same time, I can’t imagine any other vocation (except maybe a nun) that I’d rather be doing. Still, your down-to-earth words, really help encourage and make me feel not so alone. I came into the Church in 1987 and go through long periods (we are talking years here) where I feel spiritually alone or messed up. I think reading your words and the comments of other Catholic ladies, does help greatly in our spiritual journey. Please keep me and my family in prayers.

  36. Brian says

    Prayed for you shortly after waking in EDT, which may have been before you awoke in PDT. Hope all went well.

  37. Jess G. says

    I thought about you and the TV crew all day, especially as I sat Gabriel in his *7th* time out around 4 p.m. and knew that you were definitely calmer and more equipped to parent well in your very-pregnant-with-4-littles-under-foot state than I will ever be. :-)

  38. says

    Will pray that the shoot goes well Jennifer! It’s important that there is positive images of Christians in the media, and I am sure God knows this and will make sure all goes as it should. God bless!

  39. says

    Just wanted to say thanks so much for all your wonderful comments, and especially your prayers! All went well today. I’ll update on Friday. Thanks again!!

  40. says

    I just wrote on this very thing. I am working through similar issues. Great post! What the world thinks of as overcoming trials and obstacles is not what God sees as you really overcoming them.

    Blessings

    Pastor Duke Taber
    Taber’s Truths

  41. Gail F says

    So true! I don’t know what questions they asked on that survey, but I suppose if you had asked my husband and me how happy we were during our nonreligious, early days of marriage we would have come out as pretty “happy” — traveling, fixing up an old house, ballroom dancing, working hard at jobs we liked. Today? Maybe not so much. Our high schooler is demanding, money is tight, our other child has emotional problems. Some days I cry and rage. But overall? Would we give it up and go back? NO WAY! Happiness is not the same as feeling great right now. We would not trade our lives or each other for anyone.

  42. Lara says

    We welcomed our fifth child in March and when asked ,”How is it?” I found myself saying, “She has been such a joy!”. I was surprised to hear those words come out of my mouth the first time, but there really is no other way to describe it. Chaotic, loud, messy and tiring are also good adjectives about my life, but it’s the joy that only comes from Christ, that reminds me daily of what a gift motherhood is. I pray that your joy of motherhood shines! Such a beautiful post that spoke to me so much! Thank you!

  43. says

    Thank you for sharing. Now that I’ve met more atheist in my life than ever, your conversion and experience is a great example. Blessings!