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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing with "Pure Joy"

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
James 1:2-3

What a great verse to cling to. I know that I've clung to this when facing hardships of many kinds, but even though I clung to it, that didn't mean I really understood it.

Pure joy?

Am I the only one who thought James might have been smoking something when he penned those words?

I have always focused on the latter part of the verse. "Trials of many kinds." Especially from the unpublished side of the fence, I know the writing journey is one of the hardest trials I will ever face. The disappointment doesn't go away when you're published, either. Your agent might not like Book #3 or Book #2 might have bombed out with bad reviews.

Even so, we want to persevere through it all with a faith tested and refined like gold.

The part of the verse I never understood - couldn't grasp because it's so counter-intuitive - was to consider my trials with joy. And not just any joy...pure joy.

In my younger days, I mistakenly thought that only one emotion could accompany a trial based on this verse. But rarely is anything that cut and dry. Our emotions are tangled and convoluted. We cry when we're happy and laugh when we're mad.

Just because James didn't mention the other emotions doesn't mean they can't be present. It's okay to be sad, embarrassed, and frustrated. I think the lesson from this verse should be not to let those other, negative emotions overwhelm the joy.

Joy in the circumstance of trial is cerebral - we'll find it in our minds, not our hearts. Jeremiah tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things, so it is not wise to put confidence in our feelings. We should instead rely on the knowledge that all things work to the good of those who love the Lord. (Yes, that includes having your feelings hurt by an agent or a bad review.)

Essentially, James is talking about a cognitive exercise. Every time we are tempted to focus on the negative emotion, we have to train our brains to think like an optimist.

If you were sitting in my office, lamenting a recent turn of events for the worse in your writing journey, here are two questions I would ask you:
  1. What could possibly be positive about this event? Is there a bright side? (Ok, maybe a lesser-dark side?) It might be easier to look down the road for the good that could come from the trial, because our earthly perspective is limited. When we're going through the trial, it's interminably long and defeating, but from God's heavenly perspective, the trial is fleeting -"light and momentary." 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reads, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen (the trial) but on what is unseen (the eternal glory). For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." I've added the parentheses to show you the importance of looking up instead of looking out
  2. If your trial were happening to someone else, what words of encouragement would you give them? Taking a step back from our emotional reactivity is hard to do. In fact, we might not be able to fully detach ourselves. We're invested in our problem; it affects many aspects of our lives. But looking at it with more objectivity can help us through it. In order to do this, we'll need to call on our Christian friends for support to help us see through our biases.
James 1:2-3 indicates just one emotion we should feel; it's not an exhaustive list. Negative emotions are permissible, they just shouldn't eclipse the heavenly joy God wants us to experience. While joy in suffering might not be something we feel with our heart, we can make the mental choice to feel it with God's strength.

Click here to read the original article I wrote for SAGE Girl's Ministry. I adapted it for writers.

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Miss Sharp said...

Jeannie, THANK YOU for this post. Last night I was wracking my brain for the right words to say to my angst-ridden teenage son...and this morning, here they are! :)

Eleven Eleven said...

This is awesome. I have also always thought there was a difference between happiness and joy, happiness being the moment of feeling up in the undulations of emotions, and joy being the confidence and peace that comes from self actualization, knowing I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I can feel the whole range of emotions during joy, and not regret any of them. They are all part of the process.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i'm glad this was helpful! this was on my heart, so now we know the reason for that!

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