I’ve been working through Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring program as a Lenten exercise. It’s been difficult at points—especially deeply examining the past. But overwhelmingly positive. When taking an honest look at my faults and virtues, I realized something rather important; that is that I am happier than I thought I was. I know, so weird, right? Life is messy, complicated, and sometimes downright ugly. But, I can find joy in really interesting and unexpected places. And despite everything, I would not change my life. I actually feel a sort of rebellious affection for the pure quirkiness of the way things have turned out and how they are evolving.
It’s an interesting thing how the human experience can hold disappointment and pain in one hand and rejoicing, love, and healing in the other.
I am divorced, which I never thought I would be. It was an ugly and painful process, which I carried close to my chest. But you know what brings me so much joy? Happily married people. Instead of feeling jealous or sad, I literally want to be around them. I want to see pictures from their anniversary dinner. I want to hear about their plans for the future. I will enthusiastically celebrate their success with them.
I have to work-full time to support my family, which I never thought I would. I loved being a stay-at-home mom and doing all the crafty and fun homemakery things you see online. My inner June Cleaver loves to come out and play. So, it’s a daily disappointment as I put on my sensible shoes, wrap my curly hair in a scarf and head to work. But you know what brings me so much joy? When I see parents taking their kids to the park in the middle of the day, homeschooling with creativity, pouring their all into the home they get to stay at all day. I do not feel sad or resentful that they are living the dream. I am actually so happy that someone gets to! It means the world is still a safe place in some ways. And I cheer them on with all my heart.
When I see someone planning a wedding, living a beautiful family life, welcoming a new baby, getting their dream job, buying their dream home—man, I am excited. I squeal with delight. I jump up and down. It is like rays of light from heaven showing me and everyone that some things are still possible and that truth, goodness, and beauty are not dead in the world. It is not that I have all the things I want or long for. But the very idea that it all exists is a breathtakingly beautiful possibility.
This kind of (shall we say transcendent?) joy is often misunderstood. It can get labeled as naiveté, ignorance, rose-colored glasses, inappropriate over-exuberance, over-the-top levels of extroversion. Someone has even accused me recently of flirting, which was hysterical, because I was just joyful.
This kind of (shall we say stubborn?) tenderness is often misunderstood. The world and the culture wants us to hate people, to say they are the worst, to keep our friendships limited, to match energy, and to treat people the same way they treat us. But, I refuse. I absolutely refuse to be that person. I don’t want to be bitter, resentful, ugly, or hardened against the world. True, I have to make peace with being disliked, maligned, misunderstood, or the villain in someone else’s story. But, I don’t have to be jealous, competitive, mean, distant, or tough.
I choose transcendent joy.
I choose stubborn tenderness.
I have a tendency toward melancholy (which is why it was a pleasant surprise to realize that I am happier than I often think I am). Recently I was in a deep place and slogging through some tough stuff. I was standing in my kitchen at work and I sighed so deeply. You know that kind of sigh that comes from a deep bleeding place in you heart? It wells up from your center like a natural spring. I said, “What can we even do with this sad, fallen world?”
My oldest son replied, “But, Mom, your heart is still so soft toward the world, despite everything. So, you are winning.”
The sighs turned to tears, because that sentiment is an answer to everything I want to be. I don’t want to be occupied by conquering, girl-bossing my way through life, influencing, entrepreneuring, or #winning. I want to win by staying tender, laying down my life, and holding onto hope. The hope that does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts. (Romans 5:5)
I don’t want to say in one breath that I love people and in the next judge them for being too much of something I am not. I don’t want to say that my happiness or fulfillment is contingent on someone else having less. Love, happiness, glory, friendship…these are not pies, by which if someone else has a slice, someone else has less. These are things that actually multiply the more fully you are able to enter and share them. This is why I am happier than I thought I was.
I want to “love the things as no one ever did, until they all have become wide and worthy of you…” (Rilke)