Last year I wrote that I was limping into the new year, fearful of what 2017 might bring, and weary but determined to seek God for a joy that was not dependent on circumstances. I thought that I could keep a thankful journal, rewire my brain to be more grateful, and then BOOM! have neural pathways reset to the “joy” setting. You know, “Choose Joy.”
I learned a lot through that focus on joy this past year, but I did not achieve it. What I learned is that the main enemy of joy in my life is not a lack of gratitude, but fear. I learned that the fight for joy is a fight to trust the Lord. To trust the Lord I must know Him and have His character firmly impressed upon my heart.
So my lack of joy reveals deep need – to know my God much more fully.
So much I learned throughout the process of pursuing joy over the year. Now as I look back and reflect on my intentional pursuit of joy, it is striking me that another big enemy of joy in my life is just activity. When I am rushing from one thing to the next, always with my eyes on the next task, then I am not able to be mentally and emotionally present where I am. If my consciousness resides continually in the future, then I miss joy because joy happens in the present.
It is tough to fight this tendency to live in future tense because it is wise to plan ahead and considerate to show up when we say we will. We do have to look to the future in order to feed our families and be a part of society. And even though I may entertain dreams of removing myself from society and living on a deserted island (preferably off the coast of Scotland), Scripture instructs me to be “in the world.”
This year has been one of operating almost exclusively in survival mode and that brings a lot of survival instincts to the very front of my motivations. The strongest of those impulses for me is pulling away from perceived threat. That threat exists mainly in the form of to-do lists and the people handing me items for that list. So I tend to want to pull away from people, and my initial response to any new task is an overreacting fight-or-flight reflex. Just ask my kids what happens when they surprise me with a request to look up a picture of some animal they've been reading about right when I thought I was going to get 5 minutes to drink my coffee and chill.
I learned earlier this year that when people are under chronic stress they often perceive threat where there is none. Often when I get an e-mail or a text or voice message my first reaction is a ridiculous amount of angst because someone might need something from me. Then when it turns out they were only sharing news, checking in, or offering encouragement, I feel a profound sense of relief like I just narrowly escaped certain death, or, you know, a similar threat like the request to bring a cookie to the next meeting. Even when someone kindly tells me they hope I am getting some rest and recuperating I feel guilty because I am still not feeling very rested at all. But, believe me, I do have it down on my to-do list!
This post is really just my meandering thoughts attempting to straighten themselves out and may not have much structure, but I’m intentionally bringing it back around to where I started now. Obviously I am not in the healthiest place right now, but I am intentionally working to get there. And I haven’t given up fighting for joy in the Lord. In fact, I’ve developed a more appropriate battle plan:
1) Study God’s Word to know Him more fully, and 2) cut down on all the activity so I can mentally engage in the moment I am currently living. And 3) if a sabbatical on a deserted island off the coast of Scotland comes up, I might not turn it down. :)