That We Might Have Joy

16 01 2011

Last week I stayed home from church with Big G, who was all yucky with pinkeye. The big problem with pinkeye is while it’s highly contagious, is doesn’t exactly make its chosen host less energetic or more apt to, say, sleep an extra 3 hours in the middle of the day. (What? A mom can dream!)

Right about when church would have started, Big G said, “I’m such a clever boy. I get to stay home and play with toys!”

Dude.

“Big G, the only reason you aren’t at church is because you’d infect everyone around you. You’re contagious, not clever.” Of course, then I felt bad for telling my child he wasn’t clever, so I had to amend the statement. “I mean, you’re a very clever boy, but not because you’re staying home from church.”

I know. I’m pathetic.

Still, the gloating continued. He went on and on about how clever he was, and how he got to play with toys and watch shows instead of going to church.

I did what any (mean) mom would do. “Sure! Let’s watch a show!” I turned on the TV and changed the channel…to Music and the Spoken Word. If you’re too lazy to click the link and don’t know what that is, it’s a weekly 30-minute TV program with music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a spiritual message.

Big G was not well pleased. Score: Clever Boy: 0, Mean Mom: 1

The message on Music and the Spoken Word has been on my mind all week. Here’s an excerpt:

Anytime is a good time to think about the purpose of our life, to assess where we are and where we’re going. But we definitely seem to do more of that at the beginning of a new year, as we make resolutions or set goals to do things differently. In the process, we might consider this counsel from American writer Leo Rosten: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. … It is to be useful, to be honorable. It is to be compassionate. It is to matter, to have it make some difference that you lived.”

I’ve had a hard time reconciling Rosten’s counsel with 2 Nephi 2:25: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (That there’s the Book of Mormon, for them what aren’t LDS.) After all, if the scriptures say men are that they might have joy, why is an LDS program quoting someone who says the purpose of life is not to be happy? Yes, I recognize that we probably won’t be happy if we aren’t useful or make some kind of difference. I can concede that point. But still, men are, that they might have joy. It’s right there in black and white!

I think this is part of the problem with my chronic depression. I can’t understand why I’m so sad when it says right there men are, that they might have joy. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair. I’m supposed to have joy, dammit! I’m useful, I have a purpose, I make a difference. Where’s my joy?

I’m not saying my life is utterly without joy. Certainly I have joyful moments, times when my soul is full of love and light. Is that what the scripture means? Is “they might have joy” a transient thing? Not so much a nonstop merry-go-round of joy, but more a roller coaster of joy?

Now I have “Roller Coaster of Love” by Red Hot Chili Peppers stuck in my head, but with the word “joy” instead of “love.” That’s a) completely inappropriate and b) not going away anytime soon.

Also, is this joy something we have to earn, or are we entitled to it simply by our existence on earth?

Lots of questions tonight, not a whole lot of answers. Sorry about that.

The one answer I did come across was (go figure) in the scripture footnotes for the word “joy”—it cross-references to “Man, Potential to Become like Heavenly Father.”

Maybe that’s the ultimate answer. In this life we get the roller coaster of joy, and if we can tough it out, “be useful…honorable…compassionate…matter…have it make some difference that [we] lived,” then we get the real deal—the happiness that sticks around.

I certainly don’t have the answers. Do you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Unless you’re going to be a jerk.

I realize it’s a big jump from violated plastic animals to ruminations on the nature of joy in this life, but what can I say? I’m complex like that. Shut up. You love it.

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7 responses

29 01 2011
Robert

Oops, typo: *meds* not mess

29 01 2011
Robert

Hi, never been here, but just thought I’d intro myself as brother of zstitches up above.

Your posts are making me laugh, but also making me reflect, which is nice.

I was chronically depressed for many years (actually was manic depressed) before I found a miracle solution in medication from a very, very good doctor. Those years were very, very hard, and I often wondered about joy in the sense you outline. Then, even after the mess started working, I found another set if many years of depression as an extension of repressed adolescence (a side effect of mania depression) that I had to work through, which brought its own kind if different depression.

Those (almost twenty) years are finally behind me, and I can honestly say that the outpouring of joy that I have experienced has been astonishing to me; that is to say, after all these years, I had started to lose faith in joy, but that after the trial, God really does deliver, and I find myself crying happy tears for gratitude ALL THE TIME, at almost embarrassing or inconvenient times.

So, I thought I’d just say, I TOTALLY get your plight, and YES, the scripture is true, we might have joy, or, that is our purpose, even if some of us have to suffer first: their IS deliverance.

Also, I love the quote.

23 01 2011
Lizzy

I love you. You just wrote what I think. Perfectly. I too, have trouble with all of that. xo

18 01 2011
Rachel

The transition from inappropriate beads to joy was truly seamless. And big g is a dangerous,dangerous child. Sleep with one eye open. You rock, Jenny!

17 01 2011
Stef

On of my favorite quotes is by Pres. Hinckley:
The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.

What I take from this is that we need to find joy in the little things. I know very few people who have joy all the time. I have been feeling sorry for myself for a few days, then I went to church yesterday and our whole sac. mtg. was on gratitude, let me tell you, I felt pretty chastised. I realized that I need to find joy in the little things, like we had one more roll of tp yesterday when I thought we were out, like I got out of bed and went to church, like my kids didn’t fight the entire day. .. baby steps to finding true joy, which I do hope to be able to find some day…until then I will try to express gratitude for the little joys and try to find at least one a day.

17 01 2011
Erin

I like that quote a lot. I do think that the scriptures are right in that men are supposed to feel joy but I think that living your life so that you have made a difference will bring that joy. I’m not talking about a snap you out of your depression joy (obviously I think anyone who thinks that is clinically insane!) but a deeper sense of satisfaction that over time and years can bring a sense of joy.
I think a lot of people mistake that scripture for meaning that you should be shooting rainbows out of your finger tips, giddy with laughter every single stinkin day and a smile continually plastered on your face. I think every persons joy is different. What brings joy to me won’t bring joy to you and vice versa.
Anyway there you have my two cents of the day. Now may you go shoot rainbows from your fingertips cause I’m not really sure where that even came from.

17 01 2011
zstitches

I was about to click away since my throat hurts and I’m tired and at this moment I have no wisdom to contribute, but then I decided I could still leave a comment and you’d then know I was here and read this with interest.

Also (ah, see, I *do* always have something to say, after all) obviously the Book of Mormon trumps Music and the Spoken Word, but maybe one could compromise by saying that if one seeks to do good then joy will follow but the inverse isn’t always true. But really I don’t think that’s always true–or anyway, I don’t think that doing good is always a complete cure for chemical depression. But it’s certainly safe to say that whatever joy we do have follows on goodness.

I also think it’s easier to focus on doing good than to try to make one’s self feel happy, so maybe the Rosten counsel is useful in that sense. But then, now I’m just thinking it’s a silly quote, since the good things he lists do go along with at least some measure of happiness.

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