“My head is bursting with joy of the unknown. My heart is expanding a thousand-fold.” - Rumi
I do not feel much joy when it comes to anticipating the unknown.
I mostly feel afraid and hesitant, preferring my known pain to my unknown happiness.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, "People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar."
I prefer the ache of internal chaos, the striving for earned love and affection, the challenge of a difficult life situation. I have a deeply rooted sense of needing to earn joy, happiness, and love instead of receiving them as the gifts they are. I prefer my known anxiety over unknown peace. Part of this comes from upbringing; part of this stems from an awareness of the suffering of others and comparing the good in my life to the pain in others'.
Recently, as I talked about this internalized need in me, my spiritual director asked me in so many words, "Are wholeness and joy gifts from God? If so, then why are you not receiving them and leaning into them?"
Because it is hard for me to known peace and be ok with not earning it.
I have a hard time allowing myself to experience good things without the constant voice in my head that says "I didn't work hard enough, didn't suffer enough, didn't struggle enough for this." The people protesting police brutality and the desecration of black lives and bodies, the mothers protecting children's lives in Syria and the Congo, friends who have suffered tremendous loss, immigrants who have traveled through desert with bruised and bleeding feet just to find a better life for their family, the elderly who have lived long full lives of hardship...they are the ones who deserve good things. I tell myself I'm not like those people; I haven't done nearly enough to deserve love and happiness. If I even take a hot bath at night I often tell myself it is because my body is in so much pain I need the bath to function better. I can't allow myself to rest in something simply to enjoy it, simply because it is there for me to enjoy.
This mindset, I'm finding, is detrimental to my relationships.
I'm happy, ridiculously happy, with Justin. And because I'm happy, because things are good, I look for ways of making it challenging because I can't seem to just enjoy him, to enjoy us. I haven't earned this relationship. I haven't earned something this good. I haven't earned the love and joy I experience in this relationship.
I never feel like I do enough, because doing enough makes me enough. I can't be enough if I don't do enough. So I fall short again and again, never living up to my own expectations of how much I should be struggling, earning, working for love and favor. At the end of each day, I feel the day has been ill spent if I did not experience some sort of hardship, some setback, some pain caused by a relationship, the injustices of the world, or my own anxiety. This mindset will always keep me from peace.
I've met people in situations that, to me, looked hopeless, painful, agonizing. And these people exuded joy and light. They were not seeing their pain as a way of earning love and favor. They were aware that they could find happiness within their pain, light within their darkness.
I look for the darkness hoping it will earn me the light.
As I talk with Justin about my fears and we analyze why I feel what I feel and do what I do, I'm working on leaning into peace, contentment, and happiness even though I haven't "earned" them. I'm learning how to accept his presence in my life as a gift, an unearned, delightful gift I get to cherish and enjoy. I'm trying to not compare my joy to someone else's pain. I want to see the good in my life as a gift I can lean into, despite how much I have or have not done to work for it.
I want to see joy as the ultimate mockery of an unjust society that--metaphorically and literally-- steals and kills the life within us. I want to be like the folks in middle eastern refugee camps who celebrate new weddings and births among the hopeless circumstances because they refuse to let despair win. I want to celebrate life instead of looking for the next challenge that can earn me some joy.
Changing my mindset requires forgiveness.
I need to forgive myself for not being able to handle everything, for often not meeting my own expectations, for not embracing the joy that has so often been offered to me in life, for not loving myself enough to accept me for who I am.
I don't have to work myself sick.
I don't have to seek out challenge and pain.
I can accept peace and joy when it comes.
I can also do all that while living justly.
I will live in the tension.
I am enough.