For the last hour I have wanted to throw a self-pity party. It is pathetic, really. That little friend inside of my head refuses to be nice to me. Instead he is suggesting that these little hiccups of life are really glimpses into the reality of who I am. Flawed. Broken. Ignorant. Selfish. And ultimately not that good at my job or life in general. I want to have that party of cheerleaders rally around me, to say that I am good enough, that I should give myself some credit, and to spell out my name while kicking and laughing. But the metal that comes with success is not in my hands, and I really have nothing to show the surrounding culture and the voice in my head that I am better.
There is a wide gap between childhood and adulthood in this culture, and I think what I am feeling is a product of it. What if I really am not good enough at what I am doing? The real world of private industry can spit you out if you don’t taste good enough. It is not like Ms. Golden’s first grade class, where everyone gets a fair chance and failure corresponds merely to a lack of effort. It is like being the Dad in “Little Miss Sunshine,” giving yourself positive coaching all of these years that if you keep trying you can achieve and realizing you were not cut out to achieve. Pretty painful, huh?
I have a close friend who has felt this way for most of his life; he just cannot seem to fit in the larger puzzle of contemporary America. And even worse, he feels this way about the God of the Universe. In his eyes, he can’t ever seem to get it right; every time he tries to talk to God, he hears nothing. Failure. Every time he tries to be honest to God, he hides out of a lack of trust. Failure. Every time he tries to do the right thing, he inevitably fails. It is like he turned a little switch and nothing in his life or his relationship with God can go right.
What do we do with failure? Does it always have to be saccharine self-affirmation or fearful retreat? I am an American, and therefore I forget that life sometimes is hard. And that doesn’t mean I should just suck it up. James says, “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials…for the testing of your faith develops perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work so that <I> may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Joy in the mess on my desk. Joy in the project that keeps coming back. Joy in the hours away from home. Joy in the hours I spend on the phone, encouraging my friend who often feels hopeless. I’ll be honest; calling it joy doesn’t make it so. God makes it so, and to Him I must return.
Some people live life on a yacht with everything they could ever want, sailing in the happiness. Others are being dragged behind on a rope, barely able to keep breathing, constantly fending off sharks. Most of us are somewhere in between. We can’t always flip the switch. But we can hang on and consider it joy.