The Joy Process
Howard Clinebell was a pioneer of modern pastoral care. He has had great influence on my work as a priest and pastor. I frequently refer to his 1966 book Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling. This work still offers wisdom fifty years later. I am also a fan of the movie Inside Out with its depiction of our emotions being dependent on each other, even the characters Joy and Sadness.
Dr. Clinebell’s book describes grief work in five parts. With loss we first experience “shock, numbness, and an accepting of the reality of our loss.” The second is the moment we begin to experience painful feelings such as anger, guilt, resentment and despair. The third is when we have a “gradual acceptance” of our loss. In the fourth, we find ourselves “putting the loss in a wider context of meaning and faith.” We know we are in the fifth moment of grief work when we begin to reach out to others to offer or receive help.
If there is a grief process, I wonder if there is a joy process. I wonder if the joy process and the grief process look almost identical. I have noticed, that at a joyful event, I experience shock and numbness and an cautious acceptance of the remarkable event unfolding in front of me. The event could be falling in love, the arrival of a child, or an accomplishment that was months in the making, I am shocked at how joyful I am. Then I move to feelings of joy so powerful they are painful. I am not worthy of this gift, and two truths are held in tension. The gift makes me angry to be that happy. I am guilty of “enjoying” the gift. I resent myself for the very wonderful thing that is happening in my life. I gradually accept it and grow into the joy. I say, “Yes, I am worthy of this love.” Or, “Yes, I am joyful to have these people in my life.” Or, “I am joyful for the opportunities I experience.” I know I am coming into the fullness of joy when I am joyful for others, and accept their joyfulness for me.
I believe I am always in the grief and the joy processes. I have losses and joys all the time. Loss of friendships coupled with the joys of accomplishments. Loss of opportunities joined with the joy of companionship. Loss of loved ones and the joy of new births. I am never not in process. The work is to live into managing both processes simultaneously. Aware I am in grief and joy at the same time.
A mentor once told me “grief is the price we pay for loving.” I would add “joy is the price we pay for living.” There is much to be joyful about in this world, even though we grieve. There is much to be sad about in this world even amidst our joy. We live with both —mindful and confident there is persistently joy even in the darkest points of loss— thus going through each process aware of the other.