I struggled a few days ago with my post on in His presence is fullness of joy. I forgot to mention one incident that I think captures the nuanced difference between happiness and joy. I was walking the other day and trying to wrap my head and heart around the nature of joy referenced in the line above. I was sort of trying to conjure up a joyful attitude, but it was a rainy day in Seattle – one of those fifty degree, dull gray, winter days with no leaves on the trees. Without thinking I stopped to let a car back into the street. The guy inside waved through the window and smiled. As he was driving away, he even rolled down his window and gave me a thumbs up. I felt a twinge of deep satisfaction and shouted “sure thing” as he drove down the street. I didn’t feel happy. I was cold and the dreary rain did not let up. But I did feel something that lightened my step a bit. Was that joy in His presence? Maybe.
I’ve been reading lately about resentment. I’m generally a nice guy. I smile at folks, laugh at their jokes, and listen to what they have to say. As an introvert, it is sometimes hard for me to actually engage in a conversation, but I frequently try to make small talk. So when I thought about the possibility that I might add resentment to my list of addictions, my first thought was, “no way.” And right behind that thought came the epiphany , I was resenting the the notion that I was addicted to resentment.
So begrudgingly (with resentment), I’ve added it to the list. Yesterday, this addiction was confirmed. I meet with a small group of guys on Monday nights to talk about my addiction and recovery. They have been very gracious and kind to me. Yesterday, however, when texting about the details of the upcoming get-together I received the following texts. I’m putting the screenshot with the names redacted.
At first glance this probably looks like a guy taking advice from his friends but let me tell you about what was going on inside. I got angry about “spidey’s sense” and advice. It was my wife’s birthday and I had already thought through going out. She was sleeping off the stomach flu (a nice gift from someone on her birthday, 😦 and wouldn’t be waking up any time soon. I resented my friend for even bringing up the idea, and when a second guy affirmed that I should stay home, I got even more angry. That’s resentment pure and simple.
Twelve step recovery process insists we face everything honestly. I want to be known as a thoughtful guy, a nice guy, a person who thinks everything through and then makes a good decision. I didn’t take well to the challenge that maybe my decision was not the best one in this case. I acquiesced with, “Ok. See ya next week.” But, I caught myself thinking my friends didn’t know what they were talking about. Moreover, I resented they had even considered I was not taking everything into account. And, I was angry.
The good things is that I was honest with myself about my anger. In the past, I would have buried the anger and eventually would have acted out my addiction to keep from acknowledging the feeling at all. Honesty, acknowledgement, baby steps toward recovery, and now writing about the event are progress, but I’ve got a long way to go.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I’ve had some trouble trying to understand the second phrase in this verse from the Psalms. “In your presence is fullness of joy” brings two mind two difficult questions for me. When am I in God’s presence? What is Joy?
At first glance, these questions might seem easily answered. After all, isn’t God omnipresent and isn’t joy that deep gladness we have knowing we are in God’s loving hands? For me, there is more of a mystery here than comes to light in these somewhat simple answers.
If I’m constantly in God’s presence, then how and why do I sin? Even if God is everywhere, I must acknowledge God’s ubiquity in order for it to have an impact on my life. I suppose it is a little like the perspective of a small child. I remember a time when our children were quite young, around 4 and 1. The oldest had just received a Christmas present that included a bunch of marbles. I was using a camera to capture the moment, but since I was behind the large video camera, he ignored the fact that I was in the room. His mom was behind the wall in the kitchen. He dumped the entire container of marbles out on the floor and they went everywhere. His mom heard the commotion and said, “Oh honey, why did you do that?” His reply was, “I didn’t, David [his little brother who was sitting there watching] did it.” The whole thing was caught on video.
I don’t believe he would have blamed his brother if his mom had been there present with him. We tend to behave differently when we are in the presence of others. Just take the anonymity of the internet as another contemporary example. There is a ton of evidence to the fact that people think no one is “watching” when they post text, pictures, or videos online. What we do when we think no one is watching reveals a clearer picture of our true character. It that is true, then it must also be true for our actions before an ever present God. So, we must be mindful of his presence to experience fullness of joy. But what is joy?
For me, this is even a harder question. Some writers think that joy and happiness are the same. Others say happiness has to do with circumstances and joy is unrelated to what is going on around us. Joy is somehow deeper, more related to our frame of reference than to our current situation.
When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we have the opportunity to experience a deep peace and gladness knowing that we are traversing the path of life that God constantly reveals, bit by bit, as we are able to receive it. So I can be sad and still experience joy. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. Full joy is God’s grace in my life to live through each moment, good or bad, as though God is right there with me. Moreover, I cannot begin to understand joy without grace because I don’t have it in me to see moments as God sees them. According to His Word, all opportunities, even trials, are a means for me to become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
In His presence is fullness of joy. When we acknowledge God’s moment by moment presence with us on the path of life, we can experience full joy. This is another example of His grace and mercy at work within us. When I look at the opportunity in this moment to experience God’s loving presence, I see two equal roads.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
So, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Grace and peace,
Can I live with myself today, just as I am? This is a learning process. I do not accept all of who I am. God does, but I find myself too complicated, too self absorbed and too confused to fully accept I am who I am.
I find it interesting that when Moses asked what he should call God when others ask, God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” God fully knows himself and he’s not afraid to name and accept all that he is. If I am made in his image, then I wonder if I can accept I am who I am?
A new day of recovery brings with it the mystery of a pilgrim making progress on God’s path, the path of life that God makes known to me every day. When the rhythm of my life syncs with the pulse of the path of life, then I am who I am. My ups and downs become copacetic to me when I keep in step with the Spirit. I do not hike too slow or too fast. The periods of rest are refreshing, not annoying, because I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere. I pause to take in the view. Each breath is a deep, cleansing breath. After a long breath that raises my chest and expands my rib cage, I can say to myself, “I am same sex attracted” without shame. And somehow in that pause along the trail, I can live in peace with who I am in the context of a heterosexual marriage. These are miracles because my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.
So today is another hike down the path of life, the path of recovery. I hope to have the curiosity to discover more about who I am in God’s image and the courage to act accordingly.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I want this blog to be my honest story about recovery and not simply hopeful bullshit. Yesterday and today have been really hard. I’m looking for pleasure in the wrong places. My eyes are hungry, starved for a hint of naked flesh. I want to release the pressure on my own, without God. My heart yearns to return to my addiction, to a mindless euphoric state. I’m distracted, off track. I’m supposed to be writing a disclosure statement, but all I do is play Texas Hold’em online, feel guilty and then stare at a blank screen trying to write down the specifics of my addictive behavior.
This morning I wrote down ten things for which I am grateful. While I was doing it the soupy fog lifted outside exposing the sun and blue sky. Sunshine was number nine on my gratitude list. Slowly, very slowly, writing the list and now blogging in the moment about the struggle is creating a gap in my soul just big enough to allow the warmth and light of a single ray of sun to massage my heart. My attitude is less bad but far from good. I cling – no my bloody fingers dig into the earthy edge of the precipice of recovery – to hope that God really can help. I don’t want to believe it. I’d rather let go and Fuck Everything And Run. But today, in this moment by God’s disruptive grace, I will haul myself up over the ledge of recovery once again.
Grace and peace to others on the journey of recovery,
Today is my hundredth day of sobriety. These past three months have been the hardest of my life. Leaning into my own pain is one thing, but watching the lines of pain crease the faces of my wife and sons is heart breaking.
I have come to know the steadfast love of the Lord differently. The cry of my heart is:
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit . . . I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity . . . and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
My journey on this rugged path began when I was finally honest with myself about my condition. I want to live a life of honesty. I realize that Jesus is the Truth and that truth is something I must practice each day.
“Jesus is the light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
Until one hundred days ago, I lived in the shadows. Like the older brother in Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, I was lurking in the shadow. I believed I was obedient and working hard for the Father, but I was hiding part of my life from myself, from others and from God. I tried over and over to break out of the darkness, but I was always lured back. I know now I was powerless to control my addiction. On September 23, I stepped fully into the light, first with myself and then with others. On that sunny fall day perched on the steps of an old Capital Hill home amidst trees draped in golden leaves, I pledged to be honest to myself. I understood that God knows me completely, loves me completely, and by His disruptive grace, forgives me completely. I hope and pray I will also be able to love and forgive myself.
I am a pilgrim on the path of recovery. This will be my journey for the rest of my life. I am surprised by the unique challenges and joys of each new day. I live under God’s “severe mercy” and am thankful that I am able to share my experience with you.
Grace and peace for today,