A dance for joy

I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid.

In context of the American dream, I was doing well for someone in his mid twenties. I had close to a six figure salary, a luxury car, a busy social life, a lovely girlfriend, and lived in a popular Seattle neighborhood. I had big plans too. A grand wedding, settling down in a fixer-upper house, kids, starting a company, and end with enough money to travel the world.

I was happy at times (especially when I was out binge drinking). I had little to complain about. But I was really only happy when things were going my way and the planned milestones were landing. My mind was too often fixated on the future and I was constantly readjusting my life to make sure things happened. I was fully convinced that once I had these things, then I’d be satisfied and sustainably happy. Then I’d be able to just enjoy life.

I was 26 when my life took a bit of a crash. The busy, grinding life I was living came to a halt. My job and my girlfriend were gone. I wanted a career change so my professional life went up in flames. My savings plan for buying a house went on hold. I lost my livelihood and became unclear about my identity.

It was odd to wake up without an alarm; no agenda for the day. My intellectual reflex was to get aggressive. Create a new plan, set new goals, and restart the hustle. This was just a setback and I’d come out bigger and better. Time to get busy again.

But deep down I knew that going down the same road of success and busyness wasn’t going to satisfy me. I didn’t want to restart the juggling act only to possibly fumble again. I questioned why I had to rely on anything or anyone for my happiness.

Instead, I was drawn to an entirely different path. I closed my laptop, put my phone down, and shut the TV off. I stopped thinking, I sat down, and I entered into the classroom of silence. Someone was trying to speak to me through my subconscious so I started listening.

That’s when God began his work.

I was being called back home. The ensuing months had me lost in religious books, talks, and deep philosophical thoughts. I was hooked. I came to find out that God had a much bigger dream for me than the one I made. I had fallen victim to the modern’s world message that I there was a long list of things to acquire and accomplish before I could be truly happy.

Through focused studying, asking tough questions, and much prayer, I came to understand the basics of God’s message. He wanted to turn my world upside down. He said whatever plan you have, I got a better one for you. These are the messages I eventually pieced together from Him. It was my fractured poem waiting to be reassembled.

I have a dream for you.
Since before you were born, I knew you.
I made you exactly the way you are — perfect to me.
You are a gift to this world.
My dream for you is to become the best version of yourself.
There already exists a power in you stronger than you can imagine.
I want you to love in its highest form.
To rid any detachment to the temporary things of this world.
To have freedom through virtue.
To understand that you get by giving.
To trust in the suffering that’s coming.
To only embrace what is beautiful, good, and true.
To forget about the past, not worry about the future, and live here and now.
Follow me, and you will be filled with joy.
Live by my will, and you will have the peace your heart desires.

It was nothing short of radical. Turns out God wasn’t in the business of tweaking. He didn’t want to work some magic here and there. He didn’t want to give me an upgrade. He wanted to transform me from the inside out.

That was the difficult part. I had to silence my ego and break down my pride. There wasn’t room for both. And while there can be an immediate change of heart, the journey of transforming your interior life is rarely quick. There’s no two day shipping on that.

But once I understand His fundamental teachings, everything started to make sense. Instead of being anxious about the future, I had intense clarity. I trusted the process. I became fearless.

God simply wanted me to become the best version of myself. To trust that I would indeed get by giving. That my life wasn’t about me — what a relief that was.

The things I was so intently focused on, be it wealth, pleasure, recognition, or success, were no longer the center of my life. My happiness wasn’t tied to these things anymore. I didn’t have to get rid of them, but rather detach and reprioritize.

I was being pulled away from a life of pride, addiction, impatience, selfishness, relativism, minimalism, hedonism, and egotism. I was able to let go of all my shame, anger, and fear.

And I was being called to a life filled with the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, generosity, joy, gentleness, peace, faithfulness, patience, modesty, kindness, self-control, goodness, and chastity. I was invited to a life of happiness, joy, and truth. I encountered a deep, infinite, and mysterious love.

It’s hard to resist what’s beautiful, good, and true.

With this new perspective, certain things stood out to me. People of all beliefs are drawn to an idea. I noticed that everyone — regardless of religious beliefs — is drawn towards joy. Regardless of creed, I noticed three scenarios in particular that elicit joy in us.

  1. The holidays are a joyful time of the year. We enter the holiday season when Starbucks releases their holiday cups. The Christmas season is near. Whether you’re excited for Jesus’s birthday or opening presents after stuffing yourself full of home cooked meals, it’s hard not to get excited for it. Spending time with loved ones, seeing old friends, and stepping away from the busyness and anxieties of daily life.
  2. Weddings bring about a great joy. Seeing someone you love making a vow to share their life with someone special; surrounded by the most important people in their life. You can feel the strength of love radiating from their eyes. You see them gazing at the person they love more than themselves. Dancing, toasts, and celebrations — often a great reminder of the important things in life.
  3. The birth of a child. Every parent without hesitation says these are the best moments of their life. They always describe how they absolutely melted holding their child for the first time in their arms. The power of love that vulnerability brings forth. It was a day they were no longer a man or woman or husband and wife, but forever a father or mother.

Do you see the common link? At these moments in time, an individual’s life wasn’t about them. When the spotlight of attention moves away from themselves and onto someone else in a loving way, a tremendous flame of joy ignites. That’s the paradox of life.

That’s the life Jesus told us about.

What would a friendship look like if each person focused on what they could do for the other?

What would a company look like if each employee focused on helping their coworkers succeed?

What would a relationship look like if one person always made choices that bettered the other person?

What would a society look like if everyone was more focused on contributing to what helped others, even if it doesn’t help them?

That’s the message of the gospels. Love of neighbor is the external proof of the internal mystery of the love of God. God challenges us and says, if you love me, prove it and love your neighbor.

Who wants to live in a world where everyone is asking, ‘what’s in it for me?’

What would the world look like if we put the poor, the sick, and the broken before ourselves?

It was a profound realization that absolutely rocked me. I always knew deep down in my heart that life is about love. Everything we do can be traced back to wanting to love and be loved. How then, did I not even have a clear definition of love and know how best to love?

I got caught up in the modern world. I got lost in the conversations about science, technology, business, fashion, politics, sports, health, and pop culture. I was listening to the modern world tell me what I was missing. What products I should buy, how to eat, where to travel, how to invest, or who I should be like. My attention was being traded as a currency.

I spent more time worrying about how I appeared on social media and LinkedIn than becoming and the person I ought to be. I spent too much time posting and not enough time listening. I spent more time thinking about my clothes than how I could be a better person each day.

I spent too much time worrying and not enough time being. But worst of all, I couldn’t answer the simple philosophical questions.

What’s the meaning of life?

What’s the best way to live?

What’s my vocation?

What is love?

What’s the best way to love?

I didn’t need to look very hard to find these answers. A man from Nazareth told stories about them. And here’s my favorite part. The word of God will never change.

We all change over the course of our lives. From children to teenagers, to young adults to adults, to old and elder. Our interests change. The people around us change. Everything about this world changes every day. Time only moves one way.

Therefore, I can’t think of anything better to center my life around. It’s been good for over 2000 years and continues to be true today. Love is timeless. I eventually gave up in thinking I could outsmart Jesus.

I don’t like ambiguity when it comes to my interior life. I find serenity in my heart to be grounded in something that’s not of this world. Something that never changes and to rely on during the most trying times — I know mine will come. A truth that can never be taken from me.

Just as there’s nothing better than the emotional and physical feeling of being home after a long journey, there’s nothing better than having a home for your heart and spirit.

“The challenge life presents to each of us is to become truly ourselves — not the self we have imagined or fantasized about, not the self that our friends want us to be, not the self our ego would have us be, but the self God has ordained us to be from before we were in our mother’s womb.” — Matthew Kelly

Some see the word of God as unnecessary rules. I’ve come to learn they are the foundation and determination of the capacity for joy.

Football would not be a beautiful game if it didn’t have rules. If each team came up with their own rules it would be chaos. Our legal system would malfunction without law. Cars would crash if we didn’t all agree that red meant stop and green meant go. We need order.

Just as this world is governed by the laws of nature, our spiritual order must be as well.

Love is no different. It’s divine, it’s infinite, and can only be a gift. Every one of us were loved into existence.

I don’t want my life to be about me — how boring. I don’t want to live according to my will — how naive. I’ve got one short life to live and one death to die. I want to give until it hurts.

I’m with Leah Darrow that it’s not yolo (you only live once) but that you only die once; we live everyday.

I’m with Emerson in that what lies behind us and before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

I’m with Mother Teresa in that we don’t have to always do big things, but we can do little things with great love.

I’m with Pope Benedict XVI in that the world offers comfort but we weren’t made for comfort; we were made for greatness.

I’m with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

I’m with C.S. Lewis that I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

I’m with Fulton Sheen in that it takes three to love and lovers who have nothing else to do but love each other soon find there is nothing else.

I wish I would have known sooner that holiness is happiness. I don’t want mediocracy. I want Christian love that ascends with time.

We can either decide that miracles don’t exist or believe that we are one.

If you’re longing for joy and have become frustrated with this world, I offer something truly out of this world. An invitation to find peace in your heart. A reminder that you are not a burden, but a gift. That you are loved as if you are the only person on earth, and nothing you’ve done or can do will change that.

I used to lie to myself that I would only ever be truly happy when I had more things of this world. I used to think my identity was determined of worldly stats of where I worked or the clothes I wore.

Now I can be free from the anxieties of daily life.

Now I’ve let go and God’s driving.

Now I dance for joy.