Last week was rough. A death in our family. Drama in other parts of our family. Sick kids. A ton of things on my to-do list. It felt overwhelming.
I’ve been thinking about joy a fair amount for the past several weeks. Becoming a person who’s characterized by joy is something that I’ve been praying for for a long, long time. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, so verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16 challenge me like nobody’s business.
“Be joyful always.” How are we supposed to accomplish that in a broken world? We’re all inundated with challenges and pains on a daily basis–sometimes a momently basis.
I misread a commentary on this particular verse, and it sparked off a line of thought I’ve never even considered. In the church we talk a lot about joy, but what is despair? I’d argue that despair is characterized by the belief that ____ will never get any better. That belief results in absence. By absence, I mean a lack of trying, a lack of positive attention, and often escapism and/or denial. Growing up in a large family, we all became champions at escapism. We’re all bookaholics, and it wasn’t uncommon to need to physically shake someone in order to get their attention because they were so ensconced in the book reality.
Anyway! I think when you talk to someone who struggles with despair, there are lots of evidences of giving up, as though trying takes far more energy than it’s worth because change is out of reach. I know that’s how it works in my own life. I tend to pretend whatever the problem is doesn’t exist, and if I can’t successfully do that, I throw myself into being “not-there,” whether that’s by obsessing over minutiae I can control like housecleaning or by flat out leaving–getting out of the situation or escaping into literature/movies.
But something I’ve been learning in Tai Chi is how to be fully present in a moment. It’s been a difficult skill to acquire, and I am far from mastering it. Basically, it means that you’re there. Not sending your mind to the future or the past. Not planning what else you might do that day. Your brain is in the moment you’re in, focusing on the thing you’re doing. You’re fully aware of all parts of your body and interacting with the moment using the whole of who you are–physically, emotionally, spiritually. There’s an intensity to putting yourself fully in the moment.
As I was thinking about despair being characterized by absence, I found myself wondering if a big part of joy is simply being present. It kinda reminds me of little kids and the intensity with which they live the things they’ve anticipated. Think about Christmas or birthday presents or a looked-for outing or a treat. If you don’t have those kinds of things from your own childhood, watch your own (or somebody else’s) kids. I have often heard people talk about how a healthy childhood is characterized by joy. I think there’s something to that. Healthy children firmly believe that there is something good coming in each day, so they have no need to run away from the day. On the contrary, they throw themselves into the day with gusto because something awesome will happen at some point, and if they’re not paying attention, they might miss it.
As children of God, we have that same guarantee: something good is going to come today (Rom. 8:28; Matt. 7:7-11). Just let that sink into your soul for a moment.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to remember/believe that. However, if we really revel in the reality of being beloved, we can be present in each moment–throw ourselves into it with gusto, if you will. We can be passionately engaged in this moment even when we’re in pain and life is just plain hard, when there’s relational conflict, when there’s a mountain of dishes or a mile-long to-do list. No matter what horrible situation we’re in the middle of, we can stay present because we know that God is going to do something good and, just like children anticipating a treat, we don’t want to miss it.