the power of joy (erin jean warde)
May you find a joy that makes pain bearable, and in the end, creative rather than destructive. Take heart that this joy will find you, then come back for you.
“Joy is what has made the pain bearable and, in the end, creative rather than destructive.”
—Madeleine L’Engle, from A Circle of Quiet:
First of all, Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite theologians. Second, I can’t believe I stumbled over these words (words I had read before) and suddenly understood them as being so descriptive of both my journey to sobriety and my life inside the gift of sobriety. I have a belief that often wisdom finds us, and then comes back for us, to honor the different ways we need to receive it, so wisdom can take root in our souls in all the ways it is meant to, so we are able to come home to ourselves. So, this wisdom found me, and it has come back for me.
I worry about anything that suggests we should look at the bright side of everything in life, because sometimes we cannot find a bright side, and if forced, we might never find it. This is why I can’t do “everything happens for a reason” or “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle” spirituality, because if one of Jesus’s final prayers is “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then certainly I can quote him in my prayers and still be Christlike. I do not recall Jesus on the cross saying, “Father, my heart is glad, because you have only given me what I can handle.”
No, there was death between the two. Yes, we might be able to believe resurrection was on the way, but there wasn’t a bright side even for Jesus until a stone was rolled away, and suddenly light appeared after the time of pain, the time of feeling forsaken, the time of crying out and asking God why things had to be this way. Regardless of faith, you’ve likely seen the same unfolding in your life.
When I was writing my book, I started to worry the title was too much like some other sobriety titles, but there’s one word I couldn’t abandon: joy. Joy is a spiritual word, it’s not flippant. One origin of the word joy comes from the Latin gaudium, meaning "joy, inward joy, gladness, delight; source of pleasure or delight,” and it’s connected to how we express rejoicing in singing hymns. The singular gaud would have even been used to refer to large, ornamental beads in a rosary. I love the spirituality of joy, in part because it speaks of rejoicing, but this rejoicing — inside the soul, in our hymns, in the prayers that accompany a rosary — is not isolated from the reality of the world. Hymns call to mind the depths of our pain before they show us the hope of triumph. A traditional practice of praying the rosary helps us journey through both the glorious and the sorrowful, to then bring us back into the glorious.
Sobriety took on the same shape for me, as it was a traversing through the pain of many years, the traumas, how life had wearied me over time in mind, body, and soul. Then, it was the pain of healing itself, with its awkwardness and fear, but (in a special and important way) the pain of healing through sobriety always came with the accompanying power of joy — the inward joy, the the joy of hymns, the joy of prayers that aren’t afraid to name the sorrows.
Sobriety was and is, for me, a life in which I am accompanied by my soul’s joy, which has made the pain bearable and, in the end, creative rather than destructive. Joy was with me as I journeyed into the sorrowful, and it is with me as I still face the sorrow of my past and present, but now without any numbing. The joy of sobriety given to me by the Spirit is a deep, abiding joy, and it has not forsaken me (even when I ask why it has), one that is always sure to bring me back into the glorious.
May you, too, find a joy that makes pain bearable, and in the end, creative rather than destructive. Take heart that this joy will find you, then come back for you.
How might you receive the wisdom that keeps coming back for you?
Are there any joys that have accompanied you in your life?
How have your joys made pain bearable?
How have your joys invited you into creativity?
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