In 1871 a man by the name of Horatio Spafford lost his real estate fortune in the Chicago fires and his four year-old son died of Scarlet Fever. Wanting the comfort of his family, Horatio sent to England for his wife and four daughters to join him in America. While crossing the Atlantic the ship bearing his family sank and all four of his daughters drowned.
On his return to England to join his bereaved wife his ship passed over the place where his daughters died and he penned these words:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll—
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well with my soul.
That verse, along with the rest of the poem (which continues to crescendo in contentment and rejoicing), were later put to music by Philip Bliss. The song, in its entirety, is (in my opinion) one of the most powerful odes to (and demonstrations of) joy ever written.
On Tuesday, Chris defined joy as “choosing to respond to external circumstances with inner contentment and satisfaction.” I would agree and add that out of that contentment one can almost always draw a sense of gladness despite the circumstances.
Some of you might be thinking, “If that’s the case, then I’ve never even experienced joy, much less worried about losing it.”
Well, hang in there, my friends. Because we’re going for a ride.
Nietzsche said, “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”
“Amor Fati” is Latin for “love fate.”
The modern English word “love” has many different meanings and contexts, and when used as an actionable verb such as “love fate” it can be difficult to understand how one is meant to take action. Are you supposed to will yourself to feel good about bad situations or happiness and fondness where there is none?
Not at all.
Older translations of texts compelling people to love as an action used the word “charity” in the place of “love.” And to me it is one of the most beautiful words to describe love in action.
The word “charity” originates in part from the latin word, “caritas” which means “dear,” “expensive,” or “of great price.”
When we think of “charity” today we think of helping those in need, but in its most raw form, charity is putting love into action, paying the price, and taking responsibility for that which is needed and dear.
Artist paintings of “Charity” from the 1400s and later often represented it as a mother with three children. Charity being depicted as a mother was meant to illustrate that love in action is nurturing, compassionate, responsive and attentive, but it is also corrective and instructive when necessary. It is patient and forgiving, protective, but stern.
When we love our fate–our life–we accept responsibility for it, and we pay the high price to live it, willingly. Like a parent, we nurture it, care for it, and invest in it, but also correct it when necessary. We set strong boundaries to make sure we are not accepting or taking on the responsibility from others when it is not appropriate. Nor are we allowing others to take responsibility from us. Even if we are not responsible for the events that have led to our circumstances, we still embrace them as they are and do what we can to make the best of them, even if that means making hard decisions, facing loss, enduring hardship, or being hurt.
This is MY life. This is MY moment. These are MY feelings. This is MY body. These are MY bad habits. These are MY opinions. For all that they are and are not, they are MINE, and it is up to me to make the best of them, correct them, nurture them no matter what may come.
The three children included in paintings of Charity were meant to represent her fruits or offspring—Mercy, Peace, and Joy.
The product of taking responsibility for your life and loving it (not as a feeling, but as an action of nurturance and care) is joy. You don’t have to be happy with your life to love it and start caring for it as it deserves. But true joy won’t come until there is love—until there is charity.
So what then is the thief of joy? The lack or loss of charity for your own life. The lack of taking responsibility for it, nurturing it, and investing in it in ways that help it grow and add value. Worse still is active resentment for it and how it has turned out, or ambivalence to what will come.
Are you charitable with your own life? Are you nurturing it? Are you correcting it?