Cynicism, Sonship, and Joy

A post on Audrey Assad’s Facebook page about finding joy where she has historically tended to cynicism inspired me to come out of blog-ernation. It hits many big themes from my spiritual life this past year and seems like a good way to get back into this. So indulge me, and start out by watching these priests and religious sisters dance.

My self-dubbed “Year of Healing and Sonship” kicked off on a retreat at the JP2 Healing Center last summer. Fr Charlie (the pastor at my summer assignment parish) blindly invited me to attend “a retreat in Florida” with him. My options were to stay at the parish by myself or go to Florida – I chose correctly. After the retreat, I dug more into the content and concepts by reading Be Healed by Dr. Bob Schuchts and Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. Finally, the whole thing was and continues to be nurtured in hours/months of prayer. It’s true; you are what you read. So, Healing and Sonship.

Audrey’s comments echo the healing that has begun in my heart this past year.  I recognize more and more how my tendency toward cynicism is rooted in my own insecurity. The cynic in me wants to mask insecurity by asserting superiority. It needs reassurance that I am good/loved and tries to prove it by showing that others aren’t as good/smart/serious/pious/etc. Cynicism allows me to stand at a distance and build myself up by criticizing others. It’s the part of me that watches that video and say “Grow up. Aren’t y’all supposed to be leaders in the Church? Listen to better music. Stop the cheesy dancing. Do you really need hand motions? Pray more seriously. Didn’t you get enough ‘na na na na na na na na’ in high school?”

All of this stems from a mistaken belief that my goodness is based on things I do rather than inherent to my creation as Son of God. Despite how many times I’ve heard otherwise, there are places deep in my heart that believe I need to earn God’s approval. Those places cause me to act not as a free response to love, but out of a need to prove myself. I am constantly tempted to believe the lie that I need to earn God’s approval, which causes me to compare/compete/criticize/strive. I do so in the hope of finding some security but am left unable to celebrate the joy that others possess and experience.

The counter to all of this is simply to rest in the Father’s love. Receiving. My sonship journey is about learning to internalize and live the reality that God the Father looks at me with love and says “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.” I don’t have to prove myself to Him to receive His favor. I don’t have to do “good things”, say nice things, pray harder, preach better, talk about Jesus more, or be holier than the person next to me. All that is asked of me is that I receive the unconditional love which God the Father is constantly pouring into my life. That love heals my heart, roots me in truth, and allows me to act in freedom. In this case, I am growing in freedom to reject cynicism and simply enjoy the things around me. When I know I am loved, I can extend that love to others and choose to rejoice in their joy. The goal in all of this is to be able to live the words of Henri Nouwen:

“I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.”

So today I am choosing joy and rejecting cynicism. I’m watching priests dance to obnoxious youth ministry music and celebrating their happiness. I’m smiling at the sight of their smiles and accepting the joy they bring to my own soul. Ultimately, I hope that one day I will be a priest who can just let go and dance at the parish hall or ministry conference. I hope to be a face of simple joy that lifts the heart of a sad, serious world. I recognize the ways that God has already brought freedom to my heart and look forward to the future of this spiritual journey in which I’ll be more able to rejoice in small, simple, beautiful things.

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Note: Apologies friends and family for the long silence here. Perfectionism makes me spend way too long on everything, so posting became more of a burden than I’d like. I’m going to attempt to post more often, but that means I’ll be less careful with perfecting the content – please bear with me as I figure out a balance.

Quick update – Yes, I’m still in Seminary. In May, I will finish at Holy Trinity Seminary. I’ll spend my summer at  the Institute of Priestly Formation seminarian program at Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska), and in August I’ll begin my theology studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. Life is good. Challenging, but very good.

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