Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Take Joy

Photo by @jbtaylor

A year and a day ago, I had just stepped into the fresh and unsullied landscape of 2011. Being an ardent supporter and lover of All Things New and Beginning-like, my heart swelled with excitement. And I had plans. PLANS, I tell you!

But January 3, 2011, brought the shocking news of my brother's unexpected death. The world suddenly went grey. My excitement and plans vanished in a wisp of smoke, and I was shoved unceremoniously onto the HMS Uncertainty for my cruise down the Grief Canal.

Exactly twelve months later, I'm standing on the banks again. My legs wobble beneath me; having traveled so long by ship, the memory of land is a distant one for them. What to do now?

When you spend a year keeping company with grief or with some other heavy burden, a dull emotional landscape seems quite normal. You forget what fun is---what it looks like and how it feels. Answering a simple question like "What would you like to do?" might feel like an enormous tax on your brain. Or, at the very least, like a trick. "What do you mean what would I like to do?" The problem doesn't lie in the fact that you have suddenly started keeping company with practical jokers. The problem is simply that you have been piled high with life-suckers such as worry, fear, sorrow, or even over-busyness and that you have become a stranger to your own heart.

If you find yourself in similar emotional circumstances, I urge you to try this remedy: Take joy. Just as you might take two aspirin for a headache or take a nap to revive your tired body, joy is something you must take. On occasion, it might be offered to you through the kindness of friends and strangers. At some point, however, you must learn to take it for yourself.

I learned this only recently for myself. In fact, I still don't have it all figured out, this taking joy business. But I'd like to share with you a few steps I've taken that have helped me. Try them yourself. You deserve to have your joy back.
  1. Spend time every day soaking in some peace and quiet. Even if it's only five minutes. Your nerves might be shell-shocked, and your heart deserves the quiet to refresh itself. I spend my time intentionally focusing on God and reading the bible. I've found the book of Psalms most helpful.
  2. Say no to things that suck the life out of you--even things you used to like very much. Maybe you used to enjoy a weekly book club, but now it feels like so much work to get out the door and go. Say no to it for now. And don't worry about disappointing people or leaving more work for someone else to do. If the people you are saying no to are your friends or if they are the least bit understanding, they will cheer you on your way to finding joy. If they don't, you don't need to spend time with them right now, anyway. And vacating your position gives others who have more enthusiasm and energy to join in and offer their gifts and talents. Tip: Spending time doing Step 1 will help you learn which things you need to say no to.
  3. Bless your heart--take joy--every single day. Not sure what gives you joy? Go on frequent Joy Hunts. Pay attention to what, exactly, catches your interest. What textures, tastes, sounds, colors, or objects lighten your mood? I found out that I love red and purple, candles, hot tea, birds, skeleton keys, antique architectural details, and period movies (Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Cranford, and Return to Cranford, for example). If I am short on time, but I need to take a dose of joy, I might close my eyes and inhale the scent of a favorite candle. If I have more time, I might go to a yarn store and handle all the soft red and purple yarns. Whatever gives you joy, try to do some of it every day.

Proverbs 17:22 in the New American Standard Bible says this: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones."

In this new year of 2012--whatever 2011 brought your way--I urge you treat yourself well, my friend. Whatever your ailment, take your medicine. Take joy.