What’s your emotional baseline?
As a melancholic my inner life has been characterised by anxiety, hypervigilance, doubt, struggle, and frequent dismay or despair.
Being an introvert, my inner life is essentially my entire life.
But I’ve been looking to change my life or my experience of it, and taking a cue from some familiar religious sources, I’ve set upon some emotional goals or ideals: perfect love, and complete joy.
Perfect love comes from 1 John:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Anxiety is a form of fear. It is triggered (however unconsciously) by beliefs about the world, myself, and the intersection of the two. I’ve spent many years analysing my fears and their source, arriving finally at a point where there is nothing more to learn from them.
There is no fear in love, therefore, wherever possible, I’m replacing fear with love. Where it isn’t possible, I try to dig a little deeper and understand what’s going on, what lies behind the fear.
Complete joy comes from John’s Gospel:
Truly, truly, I tell you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
Joy is the opposite of sorrow. We feel joy in response to good things, sorrow in response to bad. Complete joy implies complete goodness in life – a life so full of good things that our joy is complete.
That’s a pretty high bar to set.
Joy and love are different. We can experience love because God Himself is love, and love is the fundamental nature of reality. As children we experience love naturally. Love is, as it were, our default setting, but for various reasons it is drowned out or obscured by fear and sorrow.
We can experience joy because God is love, and love entails a desire for the good of the one loved. Put simply, when you love someone you want them to be happy.
Hence the reference to prayer, to asking God to give us things, and the assurance that He will do so. The omnipotent deity, the divine being behind and within all existence will shape that existence to our complete joy.
But why has He not already done so? Why do we have to even ask? If the ‘default’ setting is love, why is there so much evil and misery and hatred in the world?
Honestly I don’t know about “the world”, I only know my world. And with deep introspection I’ve found that every misery and hurt and fear in my life has been chosen by me.
That might sound strange or implausible, but it is true. Going back, I can recall key moments where I was threatened or terrified by some external event, and at that moment I assented to fear or anger or hurt and did not assent to love or faith or hope.
Ever since, I’ve maintained those fears and sorrows in my own inner world.
The great commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and Jesus implores us to remain in His love.
Anxiety means I am not remaining in that love, and while this shouldn’t be a cause for feeling guilty or blameworthy in an emotional sense, it does mean we are responsible. It is up to us to choose love instead of fear, though it may take a lot of time and effort to discover the moment where the wrong choice was made.
That is why life is not full of joy. We made choices in favour of sorrow and fear instead of love, and we have inwardly maintained those sorrows and fears ever since.
We actively reject love, though we may not be entirely conscious of it. I guess that’s why the commandment refers to all our heart, soul, and mind. All of it. Not just “a lot”.
Jesus said in terms of prayer that:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
But we don’t believe, because we don’t have love. And while we might pray for things we feel we really want, I’ve found deep down that I’m divided. Praying for success when parts of you don’t really want to succeed, because they’re enmeshed in fears and sorrows. Praying for healing when parts of you are content with your disease.
The bottom line is that perfect love and complete joy are immanent, though they may not be imminent. But the more I examine myself and my own experience, the more it seems the resistance is all on my side.