Friday, October 12, 2007

The Life of the Party and The Discipline of Celebration

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!
~ Phil 4 ~
I've been working through John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted recently and I have to say that maybe, finally some of it is sinking in. I put it that way because this is my third, maybe even fourth time through the book. The general gist of the book is about practicing Christianity and the disciplines that go with it. Only Pastor Ortberg's take on things is so gentle, one can actually see the possible benefits of the "disciplines" and how they can make a different in growing stronger in a relationship with Christ.

I shared on You Just Never Know (for those who may be finding this blog first, it's my home, where I've been writing and my life and hope for 2 1/2 years now) about an experiment on this discipline I did just last night. It started out as an attempt to understand my dear, precious 3 1/2 year old daughter better, and turned into me recognizing that most of the time, my mind and heart doesn't automatically turn to joy anymore, not like it used to. I guess I've let the hard things become my focus and not the joy that almost always surrounds the tough times of life, if in fact, we are willing to consider that maybe, just maybe there might be something to look at in the sky besides the black hole of heartache. There's lotto stars out there I say...Why not look at them?

And that experience of last eve brought back to mind this chapter of Pastor Ortberg's book, the discipline he actually speaks of first, that of Celebration. Celebration as discipline? What in the...???? Yeah, that's what I thought. My first thought when I saw the title the first time around was more like "hey, I work hard to stay disciplined so that I could get things done otherwise my leanings towards being a girl who just wants to have fun would take over. House would be a mess. Kids would be dirty and unclothed. Bills wouldn't get paid. And on and on and on... Discipline Baby. Not the party.

But wait... if the words of Paul that I've quoted at the beginning of this post are truly ordained from the mouth of God then... what in the world is wrong with a little joy around?

That is the ultimate question. Pastor Ortberg quotes Lewis Smedes, another favorite author saying this:

To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for your existence.

Wow. Um, pretty blunt. I'm not existing as the human I was created to be if I'm not experiencing joy. Wow. That hurts.

But why does it hurt? Mostly maybe because if I am to believe that I was created to be a joyful person, then why all the heartache, grief and pain that is a part of being human as well? If joy is IT, then why make it hard to experience it?

Ortberg even goes on to say very plainly that "joylessness is a SERIOUS sin" and the one that is most often tolerated by the church. That too, big OUCH. If experiencing joy is the reason I exist and is in fact, the most serious of sins, then why does it seem so elusive?

My answer is one that honestly, is pretty tough to admit. Truth is, maybe I don't experience much joy in my life (and believe me, God has given me a multitude of wonderful blessings to celebrate) is because I have made my grief and pain a trophy. Instead of celebrating God's goodness and his strength to lift me up through all the tough stuff, I want to hang on without help so I have something to complain about, something to hold up and say "here, look at me...I hurt! Or... lookie here, you hurt me!" And sometimes the grief trophy is thrust towards heaven with shouts to God of "YOU DO THIS TO ME!!! And I'm gonna stay mad at you for as long as I like, thank you very much!"

Don't get me wrong. Pain is real. Loss is real. And it hurts on so many levels and we do have to grieve for it all. We have to feel it. But for me, I've broken down in the middle of it all, and most of the time, even if it's not intentional because I'm not looking back at God with eyes wide open...I only see the shadows around the heaviness that clouds my true vision, I don't much further that to see the pain, and not the joy that surrounds the whole of the experience of living on this earth as a child of God.

I've lived for a long time believing that for the most part, every experience in life has two sides. At least in my life. And right now, and in the last several months (or dare I say years...ouch once more...) I've lived focusing not on the sweet, only the bitter. I have lived saddened by the experiences I have thought were withheld or the prayers I have deemed unanswered instead of rejoicing in the very experiences and answered prayers that have given my the pile of blessings, two of who are napping snug in their wee beds right now, another on a rooftop somewhere earning a living and .... (on and on... you get the picture... I'll have to save for another day the "count your blessings" post!)

Joy is necessary and I need to take the practice of it VERY seriously. I need to be disciplined about basking in the joy of each situation, arrange my life so that my joy is my strength and the joy of the Lord overwhelms me with power.

And I need to start now. I need to live knowing that the situation of my life, hard as it may or may not be by anyone's standards may not change for awhile, or ever. We may not ever feel settled. I may not ever be able to live a day without pain in my body. But I'm alive today. And from somewhere... Lord, help me, and that is a prayer... has to come a defiant spirit that says "I will live in joy, not sadness. I will experience joy, not resentment. I will make room for joy, not let the joy of any experience pass me by... I will..."

This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it.
~ Psalm 118:24 ~

Starting Now.

Well... I've already tried it today. It was a disciplined act but I did it anyway. This morning, I'm mopping the floor. Gotta have a clean floor you know. Kids are not happy because Momma is mopping the floor. And all the while, trying to get lunch going. Then Bug hollers, "look Momma a bird!" In a split decision I made a decision to go, be with her, and look at the bird. It was a blue bird, one that has been back and forth from our front to backyard from early Spring. Beautiful. And now that the trees are bare, she can't hide from us. We sat there together at the front window for a couple minutes, just watching the bird, silently watching together. Then she flew away and I said "where is she going". And Bug said, "I'm sure she has to go get lunch ready. Or maybe mop the floor." Gulp...sigh...that's what Momma bird's do I guess, in Bug's eyes. So this Momma Bird has decided to slow down when she can and just be with her Baby Birds. And celebrate their lives with them.

Starting Now.


Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you! I sooo needed that reminder!

Amber said...

Hi Tammy, found you. I think, based on your entries, that that's ok, but if you are wanting this to be a private place, I certainly won't be offended. I was starting to be really concerned about you, so went looking on your profile for an e-mail address. Haven't checked this blog in ages, but came on over. So glad to see a recent entry from you! Are you ok, though? It sounds like you might be struggling. What can I do? Perhaps this space is just intentionally focused on the deeper stuff; can totally appreciate that. Just checking in...

Kim said...

Dear Tammy:
Your post was spot on! Just exactly what I needed to hear/read.
God is so good. He directed me to go back to my very first blog post today and there was your sweet comment welcoming me to the blog world. I didn't know enough back then about how to "follow" a blog so I haven't kept up with you.
But I'm adding you to my "favorite blogs" so it'll be much easier now.
God bless and thanks again for what you shared in this post.