Archive for July, 2011

Joy

In a word, my New Year’s resolution was joy. I want to see the joy that I know permeates my life. It’s as much about an increased awareness for me as it is about changing my perspective on otherwise mediocre (or downright annoying) events in my life.

I read Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, happiness is not my word. For me, “happiness” conjures images of immediate, transitory, situational pleasure. Throughout her book, Rubin cites philosophers and theologians throughout the ages who offer a variety of definitions and descriptions about what happiness is and is not. I love Rubin’s expression of happiness; in fact, it is aligned with my own understanding of joy.

My notion of joy (and Rubin’s of happiness) is more of a deep, big-picture outlook encompassing the growth and well-being of one’s body, mind, and soul. Joy is enduring. Joy has a spiritual dimension to it – as if it is the very experience of one’s soul taking delight. Joy is infused with love and gratitude.

So joy is my word.

As a pastoral theologian and educator, my area of expertise is taking the theoretical, putting it into practice, and then reflecting upon the process to learn and grow in my life and faith. The idea is that joy will go from being my word to becoming my life.

In the first couple of days, I challenged myself to embrace the smiles which my boys bring me as opportunities for joy. I reveled in the opportunity to vacuum my carseat-free RAV4 and liberate it from the Cheerios, Chex, and raisins imbedded in the back seat.

One of my favorite pastimes is doing crafty projects, so one afternoon that I fully intended to walk to the park with the kids, I threw schedules to the wind and got totally absorbed in things involving fabric, paint, and a hot glue gun. I even let the boys use the low-temp glue gun and make their own messy whatevers. It wasn’t about making a birthday gift for a 4 year old; it was about creating something new, fun, imagined, and even useful. So, so much fun! Joy.

When I found myself with an extra 25 minutes before I needed to pick the kids up from school, I called the husband, coordinated meeting at the park near his work, and packed a picnic lunch. It was delightful.

I feel like I have found the Zen of cleaning. I have white tiles with “supposedly” white grout on my kitchen floor. Really scrubbing that grout is a hands-and-knees chore that I’ve been avoiding for two solid years. But I looked to the resolution to embrace it and ultimately transform it. A good scrub brush, a bucket of water, a decent cleaning agent, some towels, and a couple of hours, along with a lot of elbow grease allowed me to latch on to the perks of this previously dreaded task. The grout went from black to off-white, which in my mind was instant gratification. And in the “lather, rinse, repeat” mode, I had a lot of time to simply think and reflect – which in and of itself is a total bonus in my world.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I basically blew out my wrists with a repetitive-use injury the day after the kitchen floor project. But with a focus on joy, I acknowledged my transitory pain and every time I walk into the room, I’m still prompted to bask in the glory of sparkling white floors.

From the standpoint of faith, this focus on joy has helped me tune into the presence of God in my daily life. It reminds me of the virtue of Hope and maintaining a proper perspective on what does and does not matter.

Joy is available to me. I need only to see it. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven.

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

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