Here’s a conversation starter for you that is sure to fly like a lead balloon: How would you describe the level of joy you feel in your life? It’s like being asked about the well being of your soul. We crave the asking, but are so ill prepared to answer.
One time a coworker asked me how I was doing. I responded the way most of us do ninety nine percent of the time. We tell people what we think they want to hear. “I’m okay,” I replied. Then I proceeded with current circumstances in my life…the delay of the sale of our house, the stress of moving, blah, blah. The obvious things. But not what was truly going on internally.
Until she looked at me and said “and how are you doing, Sarah?” I felt caught off guard. Vulnerable. Like she could sniff my avoidance of the truth beneath my surface answer.
If you have ever met someone who exudes joy, the kind that runs deep into the bones, you will not forget it.
I find that they are few and far between. Being in their presence is like feeling the warmth of sunshine on your face after it has been cloudy for days. It’s soothing and you want to sit and bask in it.
Here’s the raw truth of how I feel about joy: Ready?
The spotlight is on and suddenly I feel like that 3 year old version of myself standing on that stage again at my preschool performance. But instead of doing what I had rehearsed, I pulled my dress up over my head. True story.
Here’s my truth: Sometimes I fall into that group of the few and far between. I feel like joy eludes me.
Like I’m a bystander watching a parade. I can feel the pavement beneath my feet, the heat and the thickness of the summer air surrounding me. The sounds of the drums are echoing from the marching band and children are on the shoulders of their parents trying to get a better view. But then there’s me. Too far back in the crowd, standing on my tiptoes and craning my neck. My view blocked. So close, but not close enough.
Sometimes it feels like watching my daughter chase that balloon that keeps escaping her grasp. But she keeps chasing because the thrill of catching it is worth it.
Sometimes I feel like I can only hold it momentarily before it slips away again.
I have forged my way through desert seasons of life that were painfully hard and long in journey. I’m not talking days or months. I’m talking years. Joy felt so much more within my reach during that time.
The difference? I was not tethered to my circumstances and yet ironically, I was physically tethered in so many ways. But my mind and heart were not. I longed for so many things during that time. For home. Independence. For family and marriage. For my own space. But my joy was not dependent on getting those things. I had resolved in my heart this one thing: I was going to trust God with my life, with or without them.
My scariest prayer was murmured something like this:
God, this is what I’m asking for. And I proceeded to tell Him the list of why I needed this particular prayer to be answered. (Here comes the key part) BUT. Even if You don’t answer the way I think you should, I will choose to trust you.
Here’s what I’m finding to be true in this season:
Maintaining joy (it does require ongoing maintenance) requires some level of detachment from the things and people we love the most. A healthy boundary line. Detachment from circumstance.
Gosh that’s a hard one, isn’t it? I don’t like it much either to be honest. Because now that I have the things I prayed the most for, I sure like to hold onto them with a white knuckle grip.
It’s easy to confuse something or someone that brings you joy as being the source of joy. Until that person frustrates you with their messy humanity. Or until that something is stripped away.
Then misplaced joy fizzles and fades and we find ourselves unanchored and adrift again.
My heart is so prone to wander. My mind is so easily distracted.
I can gain all the things I have longed for and find that I have lost my joy along the way.
I prayed recently with a friend of mine who is going through a season of grief and feeling alone in a canyon void of joy or any visible hope for the future. I prayed that God would remind her of this truth that I am relearning:
No matter where I am. No matter what season of life I’m in, whether flourishing or bone dry. No matter how lost I feel. No matter how joyless I feel…..God is my home. I am relearning to set my heart on that truth. The people and things I love so much may feel like home, but He is my home. That’s how I find my way back to joy.