The Sinful Pursuit of Joy
Growing up, Christianity taught me to fight my instincts. If I wanted something, it was probably my sin nature leading me astray. I should never do something or want something only because it gave me joy or pleasure. Pleasure is evil. Seeking my own joy leads to sin. People that chase pleasure, that selfishly seek what brings them joy, are the ones that turn into evil dictators and self absorbed rock stars and drug addicts and child molesters. In fact, if I allowed myself to exist in my natural state, without constant upkeep of my defenses against my own desires, I would slowly and irreversibly degrade into some kind of Batman villain.
I couldn’t just be myself, I had to be BETTER then myself. Jim as he was born into this world was bound by his sin nature to seek only the wanton, evil fruits of this world. This, left unchecked, would lead to my ultimate destruction. I needed to remold my wants and desires to what Jesus wanted, not what I wanted. I couldn’t pursue happiness and joy and expect to come to the end of my life and have accomplished something praise-worthy. The more faith I had, the more successful my battle would be, and the more obvious it would be to all those around me. I would be a beautiful shining example of God’s work in my heart by being a selfless Jesus follower.
So, I studied my Bible. I got a Bible degree at a Bible College and hung out with other Bible-believers. I figured if I could just truly learn the Bible and live my life according to it, I would be happy. I learned to talk the talk and I became a good Christian and good Christians don’t mess up, so I learned to hide it when I did. But I wasn’t happy either, so I learned to fake that too. I learned to wear a mask to hide my failings and my lack of joy rather then confront them. And I became my very own Batman villain.
I was a douche-bag on the inside with a perfect pastor’s kid mask on the outside. My “mask” wasn’t scary like the Joker’s but it felt just as destructive. I had shallow relationships with nearly everyone because I couldn’t let them close enough to see beneath the mask. I was constantly exhausted from trying to be someone other then who I was. I was terrified of messing up because I was supposed to be better then that. It wasn’t okay to be wrong or not know the right answer. Jesus gave me all the answers and there was no excuse for living without joy or messing up.
But that isn’t how I find joy and it isn’t how I learn. I don’t learn by memorizing a set of rules about life or having other people tell me how it should be done. I learn by doing. I learn not to touch fire by getting burned. I learn what brings me true joy by following my gut, being true to myself, and doing what comes natural to me. I only learn by putting myself out there and trying new things and risking being wrong. Christianity taught me to avoid putting myself out there and risking the shame of screwing it up. It taught me to avoid the very thing that would make me a better person and bring me true joy.
Am I saying that all Christians are unhappy and joyless? Not at all. Nor am I saying that Christianity is intentionally set up to teach everyone to approach life the way that I did. I’m simply saying that, for someone that processes life like me, the idea of being born with a sin nature that will lead you down a path of self-destruction unless kept in check, didn’t work with the way I need to live my life. It left me a joyless fraud. I’m not interested in debating about universal human nature, but I can speak to my own experience and I can say this with certainty. I’m a good person. Left to my own devises, I eventually figure out what is best for me. When I do what brings me joy, when I’m willing to risk being wrong and learn from the process, that makes it the “right” thing for me and those around me. Sure, I touch a few flames from time to time, but I’m a quick learner and a fast healer. Chasing joy isn’t selfish or wrong, it’s the only way for me to truly live.
I know you don’t want a debate but I have a tid bit you might want to chew on. I propose that the whole time you claim to be a Christian and ended up being a “joyless fraud” you actually were missing the point of why Christ came. Many “Christians” do sadly enough. He came to set us free from the rules of religion. He came so we may find joy in who God created us, as individuals, to be. We are going to make bad decisions along the way of course but, we are loved and accepted by God anyway even when your fellow humans fail to do so. I think you are closer to finding that joy now more than ever. Be who you are meant to be not “better.” I’m not saying it is going to be easy but, I encourage you on your journey and hope you find what you seek.
Love ya man.
Thanks for your thoughts Pete. I understand the proper theology of what you are referring to. I think in the end that Christianity just wasn’t a good fit for me. But I get what you are saying, and know that many have found it to be a great fit for them and I’m glad for that. I just hope there is room to agree to disagree and not have either party (not just you and me, but everyone involved) feel threatened or attacked. I think there is and I’m hoping this blog will help me and others find that balance. Love you bro!
Keep up the self-exploration gym deeds. I am doing a little myself; I just can’t write as well as you to start a blog. I’ll stick with my journal for the time being 🙂
Thanks Spin! I love writing and I’m glad other people seem to be enjoying it as well. It’s a little weird to “journal” publicly like this, but it’s helping me process and I’ve been able to have some really cool conversations because of it.
Hey Gym! I am glad that you included the last paragraph, because as I was reading through the rest of it, I was thinking “that doesn’t describe what being a follower of Christ is all about.” It describes what we make it into sometimes. Unfortunately, I think what you shared about how you felt many times is all too common. Particularly the part of not wanting to look like you don’t have it all together. This is ironic, because Jesus invites everyone as they are to come to him, so we should be quick to extend grace to others and ourselves. It is probably too often that you could find people living more authentically (and more willing to say they struggle with whatever) outside of the church than within.
Now, I do disagree that being a Christian means you don’t get to pursue things that are pleasurable. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you are saying that you were taught that you can’t really enjoy life at all as a Christian. I don’t believe that to be true at all. If you have additional thoughts to share about this, I would love to hear it.
No, I don’t mean to say that you can’t enjoy life as a Christian. Far from it. I would say that, in my experience, a Christian that mapped out their life plan based solely on what brings them joy and what they find pleasurable would be looked upon with judgment by other Christians. They should be pursuing their “calling” or placing a higher value on serving others rather then what brings them joy. The argument with that, of course, would be that God makes it a joyful experience to pursue your calling. The difference being, however, that the joy is a bi-product rather then the main motivator.
I guess my argument is that I don’t see any problem with joy being the main motivator and I don’t think my “sin nature” will lead me to start doing evil things if I’m motivated by pursuing joy. I often was made to feel guilty if my only reason for doing something was because it made me feel good. I’m not a child who will sit and eat myself into a sugar coma because I can’t control myself, and with maturity comes the ability to understand how things like weight gain and STDs and 401ks work. I get burned occasionally (no one is perfect) but I dig scars and I’m wise enough to tell the difference between joy and fleeting instant gratification. I’m advocating placing a high value on joy for its own sake rather then as a bi-product of doing the right thing.
Did I or did I not leave a comment here yesterday? Well, whatever. I’m loving reading the discussion and watching you be real!
No, I didn’t see any comments from you yesterday, but I’m glad you are enjoying it! Thanks for letting me be real and not tossing me out with the bath water.
Are you using “joy” and “pleasure” interchangeably? I am wondering how you describe what “joy” is.
I don’t think I can describe joy. I’m not trying to be evasive, I just don’t think I’m able to really put it into words, its just something you feel. However, I would say that joy and pleasure are interchangeable as far as I’m concerned.
To that point, the first definition of joy that I found via Google was “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” The first one I found for pleasure was “a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.”