Thursday, November 12, 2009

Joy Killers

I read a facebook posting by a colleague that said she'd recieved an anonymous piece of hate mail. Of course it hurt her, as that can be the only reason for such a thing. I do not know her well, but I know that this person is witty and vivacious and spunky. My guess is that she exudes joy and even spontaneity. Some people hate this more than anything, because they have no joyful living left in them, or they are so constricted by their own inner demons that they could never live from that joyful, spontaneous place.

I picture these people as dour-faced grumps who sit on the sidelines watching and judging when other dance.

Ministers are subject to every form of criticism. Best I can ascertain, we are expected to be pretty much perfect at all times by some people. The weight of the expectation can be crushing, especially if it is added to one's own self-doubt. There must be a better way!

Almost as hurtful as anonymous hate mail are comments, either reported by or written to a third party, that contain diffuse, non-specific criticism. Not long ago, someone wrote in a note that she'd stopped attending church because she expected a spiritual leader and I was not such an animal. GAK!  I have no idea what she means by "spiritual," but I can make a few guesses, based upon the fact the she joined during the tenure of, and was obviously pleased with, my predecessor. I was shown a copy of her letter, so I wrote to her, directly. I told her how much it hurt to hear that I was the cause of her ceasing to attend church, and that I wish she had come to me and told me of her specific concerns with my demeanor or my words. To her credit, she did try to continue attending for several years, and she did comment on some surveys regarding my sermons, but I felt I had never been given a chance to learn much from her dismissal of me. It made me very sad.

Criticism is almost never helpful. My deep impression, after years in this industry, is that the more spontaneous, joyful, and confident one is, the more these pointed barbs will come your way. Joy-killers are everywhere, and one good way to recognize them is that they like you much better when you are miserable, suffering, or struggling. I also have a sneaking suspicion that this happens more often to women than to men.

Last night I dreamed that I was at a high school get-together, and all of the others were socializing and talking while I kept trying to get a doctor's appointment. When I came into the room, and made some joking, teasing comments, one girl said very harshly, "WE don't say those kinds of things here.. etc." I have to see "her" as both a symbol of the joy killer ouside of me and of the one within.

That's the only one I can do anything about. What can I do? Maintain a spiritual discipline. Keep learning and striving to do better. Forgive myself and others. Understand. Cultivate peace and inner joy. Watch for signs of joy squelching in my own behaviors. Find ways to laugh (to me, that's the most "spiritual" practice of all), even/especially at myself. Listen to my death. Prioritize. Feel God's love and approval. Keep striving for understanding,compassion, and peace.Pray for those who wish me ill:

Great Spirit of Lovingkindness: Remind me to practice loving me a little every day. Let me feel for myself a wide-open door into authenicity and joy, Let me never utter words that make another feel shamed, oppressed,or judged. And when these words come my way, give me strength and remind me that I am accepted by the great and wide Universe that is my home. Amen.