Adrift in the Sea of Pleasure | Missing the Islands of Joy

Semantics aside, there is a difference between pleasure and joy.

Pleasure

Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Both can be good. Yet, as I watch the world around me I can’t help but notice the emphasis on pleasure. It is advertised and sold in the marketplace, online, and on the street corner. Pleasure comes with a surge of dopamine and good vibes. But ultimately, its energy source dims and our memories of the moment drive us forward to find, to procure, and to consume pleasure.

Addicts are those who constantly chase pleasure. The cravings created by the rush of stimulation are seeming undeniable. Talk to someone who is dependent on pleasure and you’re talking to a person who suffers more than they smile.

Joy, on the other hand, is a perspective on life and a way forward fueled by a self-renewing energy cell. Joy comes from relationship and an acceptance of how we fit in with the world around us. Great literature and holy texts speak of joy. Yet, you don’t see anyone advertising joy as a commodity.

Joy is generated from walking among the hurt and the chaos of the world with the ability to see and grasp the good that exists there. Good is resilient. Even in the face of seemingly overpowering evil, good will surface. And joyful people seem to have a special talent for brushing away the dust and grime to make joy apparent to others.

If you’ve ever experienced joy, you know that it isn’t a heart-pounding experience. Joy is release and contentment. Joy is more than pleasure and simple happiness. Joy is a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Pleasure has its purposes. However, the constant drive toward pleasure displaces the essence of joy — the sense of purpose that does more than paint a smile on our faces.

If you feel an absence of joy in your life, take a look at those things you chase. In all likelihood, they are the things that you believe will bring pleasure. The short-term may allow you to grab pleasure, but eventually, you’ll discover you are adrift and unable to sustain the momentum.

Remember the islands of joy are all around you. Walk ashore. Sit down. Enjoy the security of solid ground. You may be surprised how many joyful people you meet on those beaches.

Seeing the Other Side

I’ve seen the other side. And I don’t like it.

The problem with the other side is that it is the other side. It’s not my side. It doesn’t fit my view of how things should be. The other side grates against who I am and, tellingly, what I want everyone to be.

That would be fine — if everything on my side was perfect. Of course, it’s not.

But on my side, I can overlook the puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit the picture and I can gloss over the flaws I sometimes notice as simple mistakes and inadvertent blunders.

As I peer across the street from within my glass house . . . as I heft the rock that will shatter my neighbor’s world . . . as I wonder how those around me can be so misguided . . . I find myself believing that most other people have something wrong with them.

In moments like that, I am redeemed only by a glance in the mirror and the stark realization that I, with judgment on my heart and contempt on my lips, am far more disturbing than those whose ideals and behaviors I have come to detest.

For you see, I know that the only person I can absolutely change is me. And the steadfast refusal to move toward something better is a personal and spiritual defeat.

Letters from Home

Letter-writing used to be big. Trips to the mailbox held great promise. Most days there was enough mail to preoccupy and distract for a little while. But letters were the best.

I spent a good number of years in my youth at summer camps — Camp Blue Haven as a camper and, later, Camp Grady Spruce as a dishwasher and counsel0r. (Two separate jobs and two separate summers.) The mail-call ritual was a highlight of the day.

As a camper, I was so excited to hear my name called. I would tuck the envelope into my pocket and let the anticipation grow as I hurried through lunch. Then off to my cabin in The Barn and the mandatory rest period after lunch. From my bunk, I would read the latest news from home — at least the news that would interest a 10 to 14 year old boy. Most often the letters were from my mom with an occasional missive from my grandmother.

As a camp worker, I don’t recall getting letters from Mom, although I probably did. But I do remember those from Nancy, my life-long love, and from Nikki and a few other friends. As I recall, I received a number of letters from girls who were interested in my brother, Carl, and who thought that making friends with his little brother was a good tactic. I have to admit, I felt a little bit of power from being in that broker role.

Regardless, they were all letters from home. “Home” is a relative term. After all, I heard from people who weren’t from my home. But it was through this correspondence that I learned that home really is where the heart is. The thought that someone would take time and put pen to paper while thinking of me created a place of belonging and brought home wherever I was.

I witnessed Nancy’s dad, Jack, practice this labor of love. I watched him write letters to family and friends. I carried hundreds of his letters from our mailbox to our kitchen table. I watched Nancy reading those letters and then writing her response in turn.

The phone was right there. But there was something magical about letters from home. Not quite as good as a face-to-face visit, but a tangible, lasting conversation on paper.

I know. That era is gone for the most part. But if you can remember letters from home, find a way to recreate the same anticipation, joy, and satisfaction with those you love.

Overwhelmed: The Loss of Life to Numbness

For months . . . years . . . the one word that keeps popping up in my personal journal is “overwhelmed.”

Photo Credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert (stock.xchng)

The everyday barrage of life events used to be enough to tire us and send us to our beds, eager to escape the rushing torrents. But now those commonplace things are almost like white noise in the background of a screaming world. Some of that shrieking is an intentional tactic of those who want to sell us something or divert us from the truth. On the other hand, many of those cries come from those who have been broadsided by life — hurricanes, cancer, poverty, being rolled over by people of privilege who are blind to the consequences of their indifference to others, disconnection from family, death.

Overwhelmed. Do you feel it sometimes?

As I’ve reviewed those journal pages, the notes surrounding this word are often filled with despair, attempts to fix blame on someone other than myself, a desire to exchange my life experience with someone who takes on each day with grace and energy. In other words, a cry for change and relief.

Psalms 77 is an odd text for someone like me — an unschooled theologian taught only by surface readings of scripture, bullet points from countless sermons, and the constant desire to have all of the answers. I hope you’ll turn to this little missive and read it in its entirety.

But you’re probably busy right now and reading this as you scan through dozens of email. In case you are a little overwhelmed and can’t find your way back, let me give you a summary.

  • I reached out to God.
  • He didn’t answer.
  • I find this unsettling because He told me to call.
  • I lost sleep.
  • I momentarily lost hope.
  • Then I remembered.
  • I remembered when God delivered me.
  • I remembered when God gave me some incredible gifts.
  • I remembered that some of those gifts weren’t for me alone. They were meant to be shared with others on the journey.
  • And I was satisfied with all of that.

When I’m overwhelmed and I’m desperately trying to move the challenges around me into something I can handle, I am always surprised. By the kindness of a stranger. The concern of a friend. A moment of mercy when justice was deserved. Evidence, even in the face of tragedy, that I am loved by a God who has stirred himself to love me and everyone else.

Overwhelmed?

 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (New York: Broadway Books, 2012)

An interesting read, this book will be especially helpful to those who tend toward introversion and have felt out of place in a very extroverted world. However, it’s an important source for those who are not extroverted to discover ways that inclusion of introverts and extroverts can benefit their lives and their enterprises.