Comparative Gratefulness: Learning the Art of Celebration

I’m sitting comfortably in my study with a hot cup of coffee. Today is Thanksgiving and I am thinking about my life and inwardly calculating my degree of gratefulness.

I’ve noticed that, too often, my tendency toward self-pity causes me to look sideways rather than heavenward when I’m voicing my prayers. The inner script goes something like this:

God, I’m having a really hard time. But, at least, I can be thankful that I’m not as bad off as [insert someone’s name here].

 

In many ways, that’s a better prayer than the one that actually forms when I glance over at others. As I hear them voice their woes with their own lives, I sometimes find myself chuckling at the trivial nature of their life challenges.

“At least, you don’t have the burdens I have!” I want to scream.

But they do have burdens and they impact them in the same way as mine do me even though they are different. Their problems cause worry and anxiety. And challenges plant a seed of envy as these folks look around and see others who seem burdenless because the cargo they carry is different.

True thanksgiving in moments like this can happen. Moving from a perspective of self-centeredness to one of gratefulness takes a small step.

Pray for others.

Pray to increase the good in their lives. Pray for their safety. Pray for their happiness. Pray that their loads be lifted.

Pray for your family, your friends, your enemies.

When we change the flow of our prayers, we alter the very nature of our relationship with God. When we pray with a view that others are more like us than different, when we pray with the understanding that every individual is valuable, when we pray with true gratefulness . . . we must also pray knowing that “Thy will be done” can only be offered honestly when “my will” merges with His. And we can, at last, experience true gratefulness.

And from those prayers flows true joy.

 

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.

The Pendulum Effect

Over a month ago, I announced my decision to leave Facebook. My decision was based on what I viewed as the debilitating impact it was having on my attitude toward other people. On February 15, 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account. My absence from that space has had a number of positive results for me — more time for other things, less judgmental thoughts about people posting inane political rants or cluelessly posting unsubstantiated information. I have missed the news about families, personal needs, children, and pets. In this few weeks of freedom from the daily Facebook routine, I have experienced a pendulum effect.

The pendulum was a remarkable breakthrough in technology in its day. A pendulum is a weight suspended on a rod or a line. When the weight is moved off center, the force of gravity causes it to move toward center. Because the force of gravity, the force that causes the weight to seek the center, is not strong enough to hold it there, the weight moves past center into the opposite direction. And the process is then repeated in reverse. If you have time on your hands, feel free to watch Mr. Science explain the pendulum effect.

In theory, if the pivot spot, the place where the rod or line is connected, is frictionless and the weight and the rod experience no resistance as they travel, this moving back and forth continues . . . forever. But there are outside forces that diminish the effect. Thus, with no additional assistance or boost, a pendulum set in motion will eventually swing back and forth until the resistance brings the weight to rest in the center.

The pendulum effect I have experienced was not theoretical. In my absence from Facebook, I left my judgmental ways and I experienced an extreme aversion to saying anything about, well, anything. But, then, my previous experience and other influences pulled me back toward center — and then back toward the desire to be excessively judgmental and vocal. I’ve been back and forth on this a number of times.

I’m beginning to feel that constant shifting in my intent fade as the forces of friction and the natural force of gravity — common sense and clarity — pull me to a place of equilibrium. I no longer fixate on a desire to judge others and to express my thoughts in a derisive tone. Yet, I find myself able, in this neutral place, to view what is happening around me and ask those questions that seek truth and understanding.

In other words, without being driven to be right, I am freed to calmly, rationally, and, to a great extent, joyfully explore the world around me. If you are feeling anxiety over events spinning around you, I’d urge you to set your pendulum in motion.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

a personal note and an invitation

Dear friends, As I announced recently, I am leaving Facebook. In the intervening time, I have heard from many of you and your messages have fallen into a few broad categories:

  1. Don’t go.
  2. Don’t go, but if you do, please let Togo get his own Facebook account.
  3. Please go. But let Togo get his own account.
  4. Buck up. You’re a conflict guy. Deal with it.
  5. Unfollow or unfriend all the people who disrupt your life.
  6. I understand.
  7. Find other channels to keep in touch.

So, just a little more explanation and then my plan.

All in all, people have treated me and my opinions pretty well on Facebook. There are those who disagree and who tell me. There are those who disagree, tell me, and express their continued love for me. There are those who ignore things I post that they disagree with. There are those who ignore everything I post. There are those who listen to me and enter into conversation. So, my Facebook friends are pretty much just like regular friends everywhere. I am blessed.

I’m leaving Facebook to preserve and heal my soul. I am not leaving because of the actions of any of my friends. I am not leaving with the intention of falling silent about what I believe in.

My profession has been peace and reconciliation. I regularly engage people in conversation at times that are very upsetting and disruptive for them and those around them. It can be difficult, but, as I like to say, it’s like having a front row seat to see God at work. The people who come to my table (or I go to theirs) don’t always reconcile, but there’s something healthy about the effort and I believe that God uses that time to lay the groundwork for peace.

Facebook is different when it comes to conflict. The ability for nastiness and utter disregard for others is multiplied on its timelines. And it encourages people to misbehave.

Recently, I became disturbed over the comments being made by one of my friends. He has a very rigid view of the political scene in America and I would see him appear in the comments on numerous posts on my Facebook. We share many common friends. In each and every one, he would make outrageous and sometimes hateful statements. When others would ask him to document his thoughts, he would deflect their requests and make disparaging remarks about their close-mindedness. I was encouraged by those who patiently attempted to draw him into true conversation. I privately wondered what he could be missing. Eventually, I went to his timeline and read a good number of his posts. And there I discovered what I had been missing. In reply to one of his friends, he bragged about how he would spend several hours a day finding posts that didn’t meet his political leanings and then intervene for the sole purpose of disrupting the conversations of others. I’m not sure if he thought this was some sort of sport or entertainment. But I judged him harshly for that.

In fact, I owe him a debt of gratitude. In discovering his secret, I unearthed my own problem with Facebook. And it’s not just Facebook. I grieve over people who refuse to enter into thoughtful discourse and to lay aside their selfish ambition in any venue. But, Facebook is worse than real life because the algorithms push these people into my face. And in this medium, I can’t seem to reach them. So, I judge them.

I’m leaving Facebook because of my need to stop judging people. That’s God’s job and he is really good at it.

Here is my plan going forward:

  1. I will continue to write for my blog, joeycope.com. Despite the advice of blog gurus everywhere, I don’t concentrate on a narrow area of information. I write about all sorts of things. And I have proven the blog gurus to be correct. Such a lack of focus fails to build strong readership. (On a personal note, I appreciate both of my regular readers.) I encourage you to visit joeycope.com regularly. I have a place there for you to sign up to receive my postings by email. And, I rarely post more than once a day — and sometimes I will go weeks without posting. So, sign up there. (If you’re reading this on my blog, the sign-up form is on the right side of the page. If you are averse to filling out the form, email me at copej@acu.edu and I’ll add you to the list. I just need your name and email address.)
  2. I will be on Twitter at @joeycope. That’s where Togo speaks and I have announced new blog posts. For now, I will continue that practice. The only difference is that my Twitter feed will not be showing up on Facebook. I am considering consolidating Togo’s tweets on a regular basis as a blog post. So if you don’t do Twitter, you can sign up for my blog posts to come to your email and Togo will appear on occasion.
  3. I have an Instagram account. I’ve lost the password, but I may resurrect it. Togo likes having his picture taken and we are in negotiation on this.

I will miss the good things about Facebook and I will miss my friends. I understand that I am making our online relationship complicated. I apologize. Thank you for your kindness and consideration. Some of you regularly message me on Facebook. If so, I invite you to email me at copej@acu.edu.

I will leave my Facebook open through February 15, 2017 in hope that friends will see this invitation to connect with me elsewhere.

Thank you, again, for your friendship. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. And give you peace.

Grace and peace,

Joey Cope

Abilene, Texas
February 4, 2017

Escaping Insanity – The Case for Unequivocated Withdrawal

Until recent years, I haven’t been much of a “cause person.” While I recognized both the advantages and disadvantages of some of my friends’ life passions, I found it much easier to simply rock along in the sweet spot of non-commitment and relative peace. Avoidance — absolute withdrawal — was a safe haven that not only kept me far from strife and harsh words, but it also allowed me the luxury of inaction. Looking back, it also became my source of fuel to channel my attention to less than noble things. Not necessarily bad things, but not the best investment of my relatively short time on this planet.

I now see the need and the potential power of many causes. My life has been blessed with friends and acquaintances who are different from me in gender, race, religion, and lifestyle. As I have set aside time to listen to them and have come to love them deeply, I have become deeply provoked by an underlying thread of their stories. I have come to know my privilege as a white male living in a society that still leans in my direction.

My parents and some godly mentors taught me to work hard. I have tried to do that every day of my adult life — undoubtedly to a fault sometimes. I am not undeserving of what I have from that effort. Yet, I am undeserving of the advantages that have made that so much easier than it has been for others.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment is watching the unhealthy ways that we engage in conflict and disagreement. Oh, that I could throw the first stone in condemning and eradicating the utter nonsense of this behavior and the rancor that escalates in its wake. But I can’t.

Deep within me I feel the anger and the frustration when facing opinions different from mine and actions foreign to what I believe is right and good. In those moments, I begin to see those who differ from me in an alarming way. My inner being tells me they are inferior to me in both mental ability and moral grounding. In doing that, I sin.

One way to address sin is to flee. The Bible tells us that. In my experience, the Word of God doesn’t tell us everything, however. Pieces of our prescriptions from the divine are absent leaving us space to explore and to fill in the gaps with unfathomable opportunities to learn the spirit of our Creator. Pieces are absent, but not missing.

I grieve a bit when I venture into social media and watch people I know attack and vilify others. In the past week, I have seen total strangers with a common friend on Facebook turn on each other. Assumptions, accusations, and character assassinations boil quickly to the surface. Sometimes the violence of unruly protesters pales in comparison with what is said and done in this virtual world.

Yesterday, viewing the reactions around the country from the inauguration, I hovered over the “Deactivate My Account” button. My heart was breaking over the venom and reckless rhetoric. Total avoidance seemed the only answer.

Many of my friends have left social media because of the emotions I felt yesterday. I bless them in that decision. Most of those I know well will not withdraw completely from the deeper conversations. They have simply recognized the discord that the unique and challenging environment of social media presents.

I could make that same decision and it would greatly improve my outlook and, perhaps, even my service to others.

However, if I left social media today, I would lose much. When you place yourself in solitary places constantly, you lose touch with others and, too often, your own capacity for compassion and love. I tend to be an introvert and have no problem spending time alone. In earlier periods of my life, I’ve seen my own compassion and love quotients drained away as a result.

Jesus’ ministry on this earth was tumultuous. And so often, he would withdraw to a quiet place to talk to and listen to God. He would then emerge and face the challenges of his countercultural life with grace, love, and passion for the oppressed.

His example, of course, shows balance. Each of us have a different balance point. I am prayerful in my quest for that divine meeting place carved out by our Maker.

However you choose to interact, whatever conversations you invest in, never hesitate to withdraw to a place from time to time that stokes the fire of your grace, love, and passion.