God, I'm feeling out of sorts.
Disgruntled. Had a bit of a catalogue of disgruntling events today and I'm tired and a bit headachy and I'm feeling like a moan. I have coffee next to me which could do with a bit more milk in it really but I can't be bothered to go into the kitchen to get any so I'm drinking it even though it's less than satisfactory. That's the sort of mood I'm in.
Sort of defeated.
I've been wandering round the internet depressing myself with the news headlines and the fact that nobody is talking to me on Facebook (which is probably because I haven't struck up a conversation on there for a while) and then I clicked on a devotional website which threw this at me:
'...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.'
Good for Paul. Saint Paul. He learned how to be content in any circumstances, and when I think of the situations in which he must have been content I am in awe. When I think of being hungry, it's in 'time for a little snack' terms, but he faced starvation. When he speaks of being in a difficult situation, he's talking about life-threatening events like persecution, shipwreck, attempted murder, not just hurt feelings and a duff cup of coffee.
I live in plenty, whatever I think about the state of my bank balance or the battered car; I am amongst the rich of the world. And I am mates with the Living God. How on earth do I come to be so discontented?
The answer makes me feel ashamed. As well it might, I suppose.
Poor old me, looking forward to going out for lunch today but the date was cancelled. Poor old me, too lazy to go to the kitchen to make her coffee more palatable to my sweet tooth. Poor old me who didn't get on the bathroom scales this morning in case reality hits home with a thud. Poor old me who lost a favourite earring. Poor old me who stayed up too late last night and is having a tired and grumpy day.
In plenty or in want.
I need to get a grip. And it's not all about a well-stocked fridge and central heating, either. I read today, 'Would the people who know you best describe you as a woman of joy?'
I snorted into my inferior cup of coffee. Ha.
Would they? I very much doubt it. I shall have to ask them. I can imagine a few things they might say to describe me but 'joyful'? Probably not.
How do I find that joy? I remember a long time ago I visited New York and attended a huge church there. Thousands of people. It had a vast gospel choir and enormous band and the music was awe-inspiring. During the singing people were full of the Spirit and they were calling out to you, waving arms and dancing with a lack of inhibition that I can only dream of. Worship was certainly a whole-body experience, and there was I, overwhelmed by something I had never seen before and completely incapable of joining in. I was singing, and I may, possibly have been subtly swaying in time to the music, but I was oh so British. So much so that the big lady gyrating to my right nudged me in the ribs with a meaty elbow and bellowed in my ear.
'I don't see that joy, sister!'
No, she was right. She wouldn't have. There was none to see. I loved being at that service and I shall never forget it, but I was never really a part of it. I'll also never forget that the theatre was full of souls reaching for you and I didn't know how to join in. The lady didn't see any joy. I don't know if she expected me to switch it on, but the only result of her observation was an increase in my level of discomfort and self-consciousness and a funny story to tell to my similarly uptight British friends later.
Do people around me see joy? Or do they see the sighs and the scowls and the dissatisfaction? What does that say to the world? Jesus loves me so much that he died for me and yet I can't raise a smile today.
'I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'
Not just survive life, but live it. Not just getting by and sinking into bed at the end of each day glad to have got through. Instead of this, I weigh myself down with things. I take things to heart that I should shrug off and I gather hurts to me and nourish them with attention and self pity instead of refusing them house-room. And the joy? I'm not really sure how to find it.
Sometimes in church during sung worship I find myself somewhere different. In a place where the angels are joining the songs and I get a glimpse of the wonder of you. A place where I am dancing with abandon like everyone else. I can lose myself for a little while there and I think in my heart I am filled with joy. Those are special times and I am aware that it is nothing to do with me. It is clearly the presence of your Spirit that allows me access to a place where I can join with heaven for a little while in praise of you.
Sometimes I can be walking down the street and see a flower growing out of a crack in the wall, or I can sit in the garden and watch my tame blackbird as he opens his beak wide in beautiful song. Sometimes when I see the pattern of frost on the car window, or new green shoots in spring my heart swells with joy. When my daughters hug me, or I feel a little hand in mine, or when I laugh so much with friends that I have tears on my face, I am truly joyful. I think those moments are gifts from you.
At those moments I am close to you. The enemy is far away; he can't get a look in. I am glowing like the Ready Brek man. I am breathing you in and breathing you out. But those moments don't make up the minutes of the average day. They are bright sparks of colour but the scenery for me is generally much more muted.
'The joy of the Lord is your strength.'
Amen. I can see that.
But the contentment that St Paul speaks of is a choice. It has to come from me. I can't avoid feeling pain and disappointment, but I can, and so often do choose to avoid feeling content. I can decline to be defeated by what are, after all, fairly trivial sorts of disaster in my cushioned little life. I can't really say that I have it hard. I can count my blessings and make a conscious decision to be satisfied.
I have so much; so many things, yes, and clearly those things don't make me happy, or I'd already be on cloud nine. The only thing of value is you, my God, and I am a strange and self-absorbed woman if I can allow the joy of knowing and being loved by you to be washed away by the tide of daily minutiae.
I want to be joyful. I want to stop being a 'glass half-empty' sort of person and switch to being 'glass half-full and what's more, it's a free bar!' I want people to see that joy, sister. I want people to ask me what my secret is. And I'll tell them.
I want to be strong in you. I want to learn to live content in any situation. I don't want to blow this way and that and be moody and disgruntled all the time.
I am so far from being this person right now that it's hard to pray this way, but I know that nothing is impossible with you. Not even really difficult things. I know that I am a work in progress; you haven't finished with me yet.
There's a way to go, I think.
As the old song goes, give me joy in my heart, Lord. Help me to throw off defeat and discouragement and find contentment. To know where my strength lies.