By Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
In public and private relationships, work, health, finances, recreation, and self-image, the situations, status, and behaviors of life will not usually not be adequately perfect to experience consistent happiness. Disturbances and disappointments happen inconsistently and unpredictably, and our emotions cause our hearts to hurt. We strive to stop the pain so we can be happy. But the disturbance and disappointments continue, and the happiness we desire remains elusive.
Stopping the hurt is important. Life is better in the presence of health, wealth, and the resultant happiness, but inner joy cannot be based solely upon calming life’s waters. Too much of life is lived in a state of expectation (faith and hope) for us to wait for their satisfaction. All the unfulfilled hopes about tomorrow will never be filled – that is the foundation of work.
Rather, inner joy can be based upon holiness, love of God’s world, appreciation for what is while hoping for fulfillment tomorrow. When you sincerely follow the Scriptural precepts of Godliness, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and open yourself to correction, you have done your best to establish the first foundation to inner joy.
Inner joy arises by choosing it. Inner joy is God’s experience of life. The righteous life, the forgiven life, the humble life is the foundation of Godliness and inner joy. To experience this state:
- Choose to experience inner joy as a felt experience. God is unhappy with injustice, imperfection, disorder, and pain, but He loves His creation and His creatures. He is a loving Father, and His children bring Him joy.
- Live in the joy of the Lord. God lives in joy at observing and participating in the flow of life.
- Imperfect Godliness diminishes happiness. God’s joy is in watching His children live in His world, and growing in overcoming the temptations and obstacles of this world. He created it for the purpose of relationship with His children. God has overcome, perfected Himself, and knows the temptations and trials of His world. He desires every heart to be His companion in the journey of life. Life is a process, not a destination, and joy should be our constant companion and state in the journey of life.
- God observes the world but is also fully involved as a participant. Joy is God’s state, the foundational feeling. Observe like God, and hold that Christ consciousness of being in, but not of the world, and love all of God’s children, even if they play badly. Love the sinner and hate the sin. The sin may make it necessary to love the sinner at a distance. Let the distance vary, but always love and stay in joy.
- See the play of life from God’s perspective. Observe the pain and errors, and learn from each mistake. Life is imperfect, people are imperfect, random circumstances collide with the beautiful order we have created and damage that desired perfection. Let reality and circumstances be what they are, and feel their imperfection. Allow each moment to be its own teaching lesson and experience of being in God’s creation.
- Do not let your joy be dependent upon the perfection of life. Happiness depends upon what is happening, joy is the state of appreciating the underlying flow and reality of being a creature in God’s creation.
- Live at a base level of joy, and add the perfection of life to that level of goodness.
- Know that the goodness and righteousness of your thoughts, speech, and actions will not be enough to give you the right to that heavenly joy here on earth. We are imperfect, but we are forgiven by Christ’s sacrifice. Live life the best we can, acknowledge error, commit to change and practice the new behavior, and accept the forgiveness and relationship with God.
- Even if the earth does not acknowledge your goodness and intentions, even if they slander, and say false things, even if they do not appreciate actual goodness/Godliness and call it bad, even if they hurt you and take your possessions (the things and people you love and take your reputation and life), it is God’s world, not your own. Live it as a service to Him. Let your life be a sacrifice to God. Be in joy in this state, knowing that you are living life in His service.
A story about Couple A & B:
B had been badly hurt in life. They got together and B thought they were happy, but then A had an affair. B couldn’t overcome the hurt and wanted to break up, but A got pregnant so he stayed. But B carried the hurt, acted defensive, psychologized, was in denial of his own accusatory tongue, and self-defensive strategy to attack back, use sarcasm, demand change from her, and justified his own reactions and harsh words and judgmental attitudes because she was so wrong.
A left B, taking their child, O. B was very unhappy with A leaving with O, and redoubled his sarcasm, statements of victimization, protection, denial of his personal cause/contribution/provocation, and blame of A for having behaviors that were the cause of all the feelings he had.
A was even more sure that she wanted to be away from B because of his behavior.
* The behavior of B was sufficiently irritating that A was not happy/satisfied/nurtured, and did not want to be around him, so she escaped for a time and medicated the pain by having an affair.
* B felt his judgment and criticism of her was justified, and that she should just change because she was wrong. But, his behavior toward her (his complaining/criticizing) was so unpleasant/irritating that his requests were ignored and she decided to escape and satisfy her need for acceptance with another man.
* Both A and B were unhappy with the way they were being treated. Both A and B must listen to the other and hear, acknowledge, feel the pain of the other. This opens the heart to change.
* A must acknowledge that her response to B was inappropriate. Having an affair when she was unhappy is understandable, but not a correct response to the stresses, disappointment, and criticism.
* B must acknowledge the pain of A for being criticized in the manner, tone, way that he confronted her behavior and requested/demanded change.
* Neither A nor B understood the pain that they were creating in their spouse. And, to the extent they did understand it, both felt justified in their actions and response.
* Role of the counselor, hear both stories and analyze the appropriateness of the spectrum/litany of complaints, violations of space and taste; and irritations due to habit, habit, and disability. The foundation of resolution of every relationship is walking in God’s law and way. Thus, by looking at how each person acts, speaks, and thinks, the counselor can make his own evaluation of right and wrong behaviors to confront.
* The foundation of change is truly/actually feeling and understanding how/why the other person was affected by our words and actions. When the reality of one’s own actions is seen/felt/heard as having a deep effect on another person, it is possible to develop the personal motivation to make changes in thought, speech, and action. The hurt and disappointment in the one person are often felt by the other person too, but for different reasons. Both sides must speak their hurt and make requests. Both sides must be felt and heard, as this creates a heart that is willing to change. Alternately speaking and mirroring their personal pain is a start. Rapport, understanding, and really getting the pain of the other person is a foundational step in the therapy of bringing two people’s hearts into alignment.
* Both spouses are responding to each other’s habits, and both are responding to responses, defenses, requests, and demands. The cycle of automaticity of reaction must be broken.
* Ideally, A would change her irritating behaviors, and B would be accommodating and forgiving, and appreciate A for who she is today while requesting and encouraging her to change . But, that is not the usual scenario for a couple that arrives in the counseling situation. Each spouse may be reaching out to the counselor for an ally to apply pressure on his/her mate to change. The counselee may be an unwilling/reluctant captive who was forced into therapy under the duress of threats. Regardless, the two have not been able to come to an agreement about making the requested or demanded personal changes. Both spouses have emotional needs, and both have habits of thoughts, speech, and action that have been developed and entrenched over a lifetime. In the best case scenario, the request is made, heard, and change is made. But, such easy resolutions are not the issues that are brought into the counseling encounter. Rather, both parties feel either powerless to change to meet the request or they feel unjustly accused. In either case, both parties must be heard by the counselor, and both parties must hear and understand each other.
* The foundational exercise is mirroring. This must be done by both A and B. For example, A should listen to, feel and understand the situation, “I feel” statements and requests of B, and then repeat back/ mirror/paraphrase the essence of what B said. In her role as listening, A’s role is to be open, hear things clearly, repeat back with words that let B know that he was understood. The same process was to be done by B, listening to, understanding her world, seeing why she said what she said, and feeling how she felt in her world.
While the mirroring process is only the start of the counseling interaction, it is the foundation for every sentence and statement made by both parties and the counselor. All people in the counseling interaction must deeply understand and feel the reality of the experience of the other person.
In the process of listening to and being understood, the goal is to identify the right behavior, the Godly thoughts, speech, and action that each person should adopt and act. A full, habitual, automatic, never-miss change in behavior is unlikely. Most changes take time, trials, attempts, reminders, learning new behaviors, and developing consistency and automaticity. Coming to an agreement as to the behaviors that are appropriate/right/good to change is the necessary precursor to change and resolution. It may be a change in behavior or a change in reaction to behavior. Either way, when agreement is reached that a change is necessary/right/justified/good, at this point, the therapy moves to a support phase, where the couple learns how to remind about the commitment to change, to accept the reminder, forgive for the violation/slip/mistake/unintended act, and redo with the right/intended/desired action.