When I was a little girl, my mother took me to visit a relative in the nursing home. I must have been pretty small, because I don’t remember much except this: we were walking down the hallway and passed an old woman in a wheelchair—a complete stranger—who looked up at my mom and cussed her out.
Mostly, I remember the shock. Seeing my reaction, my mom said, in some verbiage appropriate enough to lodge a grain of wisdom in a small child, “We have to guard our thoughts, because when we get old, whatever we think is going to come out of our mouths, even if we know it’s wrong. Even if we always controlled it before.”
In recent weeks, as I’ve been pondering joy (and whether I have it), this truth has been working its way up through my memory. Challenging me to examine my present in light of its implications for the future. What kind of person I will be in another twenty or thirty years, if I spend these hours and days and years shadowboxing real and imaginary opponents? To do so is to nurture anger and bitterness, and in my twilight years, that is what I will do: view the world through a lens of everything that irritates me about it. To skip right over the beauty and unity and look instead for opportunities to pick fights with anything (possibly important, but more likely petty) that annoys me.
This is not what I want. I want the unfiltered version of me to be one that doesn’t evoke winces, deep breaths, or gritted teeth from those around me. To be joyful.
So what have I learned about seeking joy?
Honestly? Not much, yet. My spiritual director asked me, “Have you asked God to give you joy?” I took a breath to answer and what came out was:
So lesson #1 is, relying on myself to find joy is futile. A chase after wind. Just like every other hard thing in life, it is beyond me. It is a gift of God, and I have to ask for it.
Lesson #2 is that whether it feels like it or not, I have a choice about how I react to things. You know that cliche, “pick your battles”? In recent years, I’ve been picking them all. A few months ago, I identified one major battle in my life that I was not winning, while other people were having better success. I realized that meant it was time to let them take over the fight.
In the past few days, I discovered that where another battle is concerned, I’m simply done fighting. The wound hasn’t changed, my convictions haven’t changed, but I’ve expended all the emotional energy I’m willing to expend. It’s time to seek open doors instead of banging on the one that’s closed. Shake the dust from my feet. Move on.
Lesson #3 is that being out of sync in my closest relationships is an unnecessary stress that robs joy from all of life.
Lesson #4 is that getting stretched too thin causes me to be out of sync in my closest relationships.
Lesson #5 is the one I already knew: that equilibrium in my life comes from spending time alone with God in nature. Weather, family obligations, and my husband’s lack of freedom to do the same all complicate that seemingly simple truth, but I’m trying to work with it.
That’s what I’ve got so far. What about you, readers? What have you learned about seeking joy?