Joy and Self-Care

Since I started thinking more deeply about religion and faith, words whose definitions I thought I knew have started to take on different meanings. Suffering no longer means quite what I thought it did. Once I thought suffering meant “utter misery for no particular purpose other than the fact that life sucks and then you die,” but suffering started to become more purposeful. Suffering involves hope and faith.

Similarly, joy has taken on another meaning. When I thought of joy, I always thought of the giddy excitement that builds up before an expected event, like waiting for Christmas or your birthday. I suppose I had a child’s perception of joy.

About this time last year, one of our parish priest’s homilies was about joy, and how joy was actually an acronym that stood for Jesus, others, yourself, and they are in that order for a reason. You can do things for yourself that bring you fleeting happiness, but putting others first is always better because the good feeling lingers. ‘Tis better to give than to receive and all that. In turn, what you do for others is also done for Jesus, as in Matthew 25:40: “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Things that are done solely for Jesus, like prayer and adoration, always bring the greatest joy. True, they may not seem joyful at first, but over time, they become the necessary things to sustain one’s spirit in a world that is overly focused on material.

One of the trendy buzzwords that comes up all the time is self-care. That word always irritates me because I read about “self-care rituals” on Tumblr, and they involve things like taking bubble baths and spending hours binge-watching your favorite shows on Netflix. Most of the time, it equates to “if you’re an introvert, it’s OK to take your introvert time.” Well, that’s all fine and good. I admit that the occasional bubble bath and Netflix marathon aren’t bad. It’s necessary to take a break from reality to restore your sanity. But self-care can be overdone, and that may not always bring about happiness or joy. Self-care involves putting yourself first.

A common argument is that, to some degree, you have to put yourself first so that you can be at your highest capacity to serve others. It is true that you shouldn’t neglect your basic needs, like food and hygiene and being adequately dressed, but that’s not really self-care… it’s just common sense. To me, this self-care thing goes much deeper than those basics and can easily turn into selfishness. Leave me alone. I’m doing my self-care rituals. It is easy to have too much introvert time and become lazy and unwilling to come out of your metaphorical blanket fort, even when others need you.

Putting others first can sustain you in ways that self-care can’t. Spending time with others is more worthwhile (80% of the time) than spending time by yourself, and spending time with Jesus in prayer and adoration is more worthwhile (100% of the time) then spending time by yourself engaging in self-care.

Self-care is perhaps only surface-level care. Little bits here and there can be restoring for moments, but they are not gifts that keep on giving, like acting on the “J” and the “O” of joy. A good offering for Advent might be to moderate our self-care and keep the “Y” where it belongs—last.

Advent and the Waiting

Upon thinking of Advent, the first thing that leaped into my brain was this song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers:

Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

Every Advent, we are waiting for the return of Christ as an infant. Every day, we are waiting for something, and we know that many of the things we are waiting for and praying for and hoping for will not come to fruition, but we wait anyway.

What is life but a big waiting room? In a way, we’re all metaphorically sitting in the DMV office waiting for our number to be called. Of course, there are times when it’s less mind-numbingly boring than that, but what it comes down to is that the waiting never truly ends until we die and reach the final judgment.

Many times, the pain of waiting comes from not knowing when the waiting will end. It does little good to wait for your own death because few of us know the exact day it will happen. Waiting for the end of a semester, the end of a job, or the end of an event is easier because we can count down the days.

How do you ease the pain of waiting? Perhaps prayer may work for some. Maybe it’s taking your mind off the wait by focusing on something else. Maybe it’s by doing everything in your power to shorten the wait.

Finding the joy in waiting is difficult, especially when what we might be waiting for isn’t particularly happy or exciting. In that case, you might be waiting for the unhappy event to be over.

Fortunately, in Advent, we know what we’re waiting for and we know the day and the hour. We know how many days we have to scramble and get ready for one of the holiest events of the year. We have a general sense, based on tradition, of what will happen during that day. But we don’t know the precise details, and it’s in those precise details that the joy comes through—those tiny memories we make that stick with us over time and become the subject of joyful stories for years to come.

Happy Advent!

A Desperate Prayer

The more I listen to certain types of metal, the more I think that, as much as the writers of the songs claim to hate God and religion, they really crave it. I once read a story about a metal band that was searching for more ways to denigrate religion and the Catholic Church, and what they found in their searches actually changed their minds. They all converted to Catholicism.

My initial thought is that metal music and the “image” that comes with it are both quite silly, really. The lead singers railing about how much they hate religion don’t seem to realize that they are not changing the status quo. They are catering to a group of people who are senselessly rebelling. The only ones who really take them seriously are others who have fallen into the same trap.

Sometimes I wonder if the members of these bands really believe what they are singing about or if it’s just a front or a stage presence. If the latter is true, then how long would it be before that “fake” presence begins to become their reality?

Many who listen to metal say they listen for the sound of the music, not the lyrics, which are often screamed and growled and indecipherable anyway. I don’t really believe that. It seems to me that the lyrics will work their way into a person’s subconscious mind, whether the person consciously understands them or not. Music can be a powerful influential force in a person’s life, and the content of what a person listens to can make a difference in the way he or she sees the world.

But what I do believe is that all metal music, even the most blasphemous and disgusting, is a desperate prayer.