last night, while i was preparing for a dear friend to come over, i was listening to eva cassidy's songbird. this woman (who died at the young age of 33 in 1996) has a voice that pulls at the deeper places inside of me. there is a mournful quality which, i find, is what draws me in when someone is singing. it's the reason i love karen carpenter so much. it's the reason that, as a child, i felt like she and i got each other.
and then there's rich mullins. he wasn't a great singer, but the man sure knew how to write, and i often felt the pain that lingered behind the joy as he sang about the intricacies of trying to navigate a faith-driven life on this earth. he was raw and real and not trying to pretend that life was covered in this crispy, sugary shell (often labeled 'joy') that so many christians try and project.
i have struggled against that shell for the entirety of the 12+ years since i came to Christ. in fact, a few years ago, a small group of which i was a part took a kind of 'faith survey' to see where we stood in mirroring the aspects of God in our lives. and whoever wrote this test fashioned it in such a way that almost none of us in the group had what was supposedly considered much in the way of joy. (for the record, i'm not sure i agree with that, but i was a willing participant in all this, so i wasn't trying to be argumentative.) so, as a way to 'help' us, we decided to read some book on joy by chuck swindoll (i believe). now, not to knock the man, but i found the book to be shallow and in no way representative of most people's honest experiences.
it seems to me that it's quite simple for many believers to feel that they are joyful when what is really going on is that they haven't been experiencing anything that difficult in their lives recently (or when they do, they push the feelings away because they feel they're wrong or 'sinful') and so it becomes fairly easy to live the crisp and sugary life. and those poor souls who are deep in the midst of their grief, hurt, anger, depression, etc. in an authentic way are basically told, in subtle and unsubtle ways, that they are 'missing the mark,' need to be reading their bible more, aren't really projecting that 'joy of the Lord.' and of course it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how quickly this leads to discouragement and feelings of inadequacy and condemnation (which, of course, are 'sinful' in themselves).
the truth is that there is real joy to be found in the depths of pain and suffering. there is singing inside of prison walls. there is hope in blindness and confusion. there is life in the midst of death. and it doesn't matter what kind of songs you sing, books you read, phrases you utter, movies you watch, friends you hang out with, places you go: if you aren't living in the REALness of the human experience, there is no way to experience true joy. God is glorified in the midst of suffering. God makes beauty out of ashes and he turns angry, hate-filled people into kings and great leaders. God isn't shocked by your 'bad attitude' or your lack of trust in Him. because if you have turned your life over to Him, even if it takes years, there is always an end to the trials. but it takes work to walk through them to the end. and often it seems easier to talk yourself out of the experiences rather than to run the race. but God knows what's really going on inside that heart of yours, so you might as well get to work on really living your way through your life so that you might have a fighting chance of being transformed into the image of Him at the end of it.
so what does this have to do with eva cassidy and karen carpenter? maybe not a lot. except that i'm tired of the bullcrap of sugar-coated life. i can't tolerate it, and i will not sign my name on the dotted line of any organization that lives it. so many of us on this earth are existing inside of shells because we know we 'should' be better. well, we're NOT better. deal with it. only God can fix what's wrong, and the longer we pretend, the longer we fail to experience real joy.
the day that i spoke aloud the truth of what i was holding inside is the day that i started on the road to freedom in Christ, to living the life that i was meant to lead. and i don't care who i offend as i walk along that road, because i'd rather find myself a real person at the end of it - someone whose face shines with God's beauty and not the world's.
in the meantime, i'll sing my sad songs and i'll cry my tears, and i'll scream out my frustrations into the darkness. and God will love me through it. He's big enough.