Joy in my heart

I woke up with an old camp song in my head this morning. Like many camp songs, there are a lot of variations in lyrics, and we sang a lot of different words to the song. The verse we sang first went like this:
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart to stay!

When we sang it at camp, we would then change the words to add more syllables. Keeping the same tune meant that we had to divide quarter notes into eighth notes and enunciate very carefully. We sang verses like:

“I’ve got the precious blood of the blessed redeemer down in the depths of my heart!”

and

“I’ve got to the belief that baffled the best of the buddhists way down in the depths of my heart!”

The song is fun and the challenge of cramming all of those syllables into the tune was fun. We often found ourselves giggling as we sang.

I’ve been thinking about joy, in part because I often am called to provide counsel to people who are very sad. Some are overwhelmed with grief. Others are suffering from a deep sense of failure over bad choices they have made. Others are the victims of things that are beyond their control. That is in normal times. Now, with a pandemic sweeping the globe and reports of illness in our community going up and up, I encounter fear and more than a small amount of cabin fever. I wonder how long we can get people to practice the basic behaviors that are required for public health and safety. It simply won’t work to lock down all of the people for long. And we haven’t really been locked down. I go to the church every day. I go grocery shopping once a week. We walk outdoors every day. I do, however, speak by phone with those who haven’t left their homes for a couple of months.

It seems reasonable to ask, “where is the joy in all of this?” Actually, I don’t have to look far. If I grab my cell phone, there is a picture of our four grandchildren on the lock screen. I can scroll through hundreds of family photos at the touch of my finger. Part of the home school routine for the three oldest of our grandchildren is the assignment to write two letters each week. Even with other grandparents and one great grandmother, I get my fair share of letters, which I can read over and over. They give me joy.

After a health scare in the fall, my wife and I are enjoying excellent health. Our 47th anniversary is approaching. We are incredibly fortunate to have had each other and such a loving and joyful marriage. I don’t have to look far to find sources of joy in my life.

In addition, I have the deep joy of meaningful work. I have been blessed to have a career that has been successful and work that I love. There have been struggles along the way. Not everything has worked out as I imagined, but I have served my adult life in the church without every being unemployed and I have always served congregations that were fair and supportive of their ministers. I know stories of clergy who have been abused, but I have not experienced those events in my own life.

That source of great joy, however, is also a source of a bit of fear when I am honest with myself. I’m just six weeks away from my last paycheck from this congregation and just four weeks from completing my service. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what comes next. It is rather strange, because we have talked about and planned for retirement for most of our lives. We have friends who are successfully retired and who have deeply meaningful and joyful lives. We have mentors who are retired and who have shown us meaningful paths of service. There is no rational reason for my fear.

And I know the scriptures. I know the rational words. “Perfect love casts out all fear.” “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” I know that things are going to work out just fine. We are not suffering the uncertainties of those who are furloughed or simply without a job at all due to the shutdown. We are not in fear of losing our home or of having groceries to put on the table. We are extremely fortunate and there are many variables in of our lives over which we have a degree of control. I can make every rational argument against the fear that I sense.

Emotions, however, are not rational. And often it is far better to express your emotions than to hide them. Just admitting that I am a bit afraid and writing out these words is helping me gain a sense of power over my fear.

We live in uncertain times. A bit of fear is very common. We also have many experiences and tools to guide us in these times.

I remember driving into Chicago many years ago. I was nervous about the traffic. I was nervous about getting lost in the city. I was fearful about making such a big move. I’m not a city person and Chicago is a big city. I was nervous about having made the right choices and I knew that it was too late to back out now. Would I be a successful student? Could I handle the work of graduate school? Would living in a tiny apartment drive me up the wall? Would my professors and the other students share my passions and interests? Looking back, I know it was a very good decision for us. I’m glad I worked through my fears and pursued my education.

Today is a good day to face my fears and work through them. After all, I’ve not only got “the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” I’ve also “got to the belief that baffled the best of the buddhists way down in the depths of my heart!”

That should be enough to keep me going.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!