Monday, March 10, 2014

How to find and keep JOY...even in the bathtub


I'm not going to lie, some days I have to fight for joy.  I may wake up and feel prone to irritability, frustration, and negativity, as if one little thing could pull the trigger and send me spiraling downward. Other days I wake up and immediately feel crushed under the weight of the world and overwhelming circumstances.  I find myself teetoring on a fence, just one little misstep away from falling facedown into a thick, muddy pit of defeat and despair.  Such a pit exists that can pull one so far deep that she is unable to get out of bed for an entire day...or two...or three.  I know because it wasn't that far in my distant past that I faceplanted in that pit.  It's a place I never hope to return.

So, how do we rise above these things and live a life of joy?  Where do we find it, and how do we wrestle through to the other side?

Research says that many things in life are contagious.  Joy is one of them.  Somehow, when we are joyful, it bubbles over into the lives of those around us.  I want to be bubbling over with joy, don't you?  Happy people are easy to like and pleasant to be around.  Some people's hearts are filled with a natural tendency and disposition for joy.  My daughter is one of those people.  She wakes up happy each day, naturally in a good mood,  and it takes a lot to steal it away from her.

My son, on the other hand, is not.  I remember when he was just a baby, I'd go into his bedroom to pick him up out of his crib in the morning, or after a nap, and he would have a scowl on his face.  It was as if he was just naturally predestined to be in a bad mood.  I would lift him into my arms and in my high-pitched mama voice I'd tell him, "You're not allowed to wake up grumpy.  You need to be happy!  Let me see you smile for mama!"  And usually, he would.  I routinely spoke these words to him.  It was as if he needed a little jostling to flip him back over onto the right side of the bed.  Sometimes, even as adults, we need a little jostling too.

While we may not all be wired with a propensity for joy, I believe it can become a choice and a habit.


In the moments I struggle with being joyful, I have found a few things to help change my perspective, keep me out of that pit, and steer me onto a path of joy.  Let me share 5 tips that have helped me in my wrestling through:

1) Keep a GRATEFUL heart.  Someone once said that whatever it is we focus on becomes magnified in our lives.  In the moments I find myself dwelling on my problems, I know I need to shift my focus.  I have to remind myself of all the blessings I already have.  I begin to thank God for all that He is, all He has given/promised me, and all He has done.  At times, I've even made a written list of these things.  Never have I walked away from doing this without having a changed perspective and a more grateful heart.  It's an instant mood changer.

A free-flowing record of our blessings will open the door to joy and lock away the futile thoughts that threaten to imprison and overtake us.      

Start making your list today; add to it and re-read it over and over again as needed.


2) Be fully PRESENT in your now.  In most instances when I am wrestling for joy, I am either preoccupied with the past and something that has occurred, or I am worried about the future and what (may not) or hasn't happened yet.  When I dwell on something in the past that has hurt me, I re-live it over and over in my mind which just exasperates the problem and causes more unnecessary pain.  When I spend too much time worrying about my future, I am just as distracted and unable to appreciate the beauty that's before me.

Focusing on the past and the future keeps us distracted and robs us of the joy concentrated in today.  

In moments I catch myself dwelling on past hurts or future worries, I try to take a moment to pause and embrace the simple things in my present that bring my heart joy.  I listen more intently to my children's voices and laughter, study their faces and actions, and freeze-frame their smiles.  Suddenly, I take notice of the curvature of my four year old's dimpled little hands and the way I need to constantly sweep the loose snarled hair away from her eyes. It becomes a blessing and a moment in time I begin to appreciate more fully.  For one day, that little dimpled hand will lose its dimples, and she will no longer need me to tuck her hair behind her ear for she will be doing it herself.  And I'll miss these days.  I don't want to miss them now while I'm living in them.  There's much beauty to be found in the small.  Taking notice of the simple joys in all of life's "ordinary" keeps me focused and fully present to gather more joy in my today.

3)  PRAY.  There is power in prayer.  It can change circumstances, the hearts and lives of others, and ultimately, it will change you!  God knows you better than you know yourself.  And He cares about every detail of your life.  He understands your fragile, complicated heart, and He wants you to share it with Him.  Everything we need is found in Christ.  Instead of chasing after temporary substitutes to heal our hurts and fill our voids, we must first go to Him to have our needs fulfilled.

When we go to Him in prayer, He covers and soothes the broken and empty spaces within us.

Sometimes, I am tempted to take matters into my own hands.  Often times, I have done just this and fallen even further down.  But I've found that when I go to God first and foremost with my concerns and struggles and place them into His hands, I am relieved of the burden and the outcome is always better.  This increases my faith and builds my trust in Him because it confirms that He cares deeply for me, has heard my heart cry, and that He is working on my behalf.  There is great joy in knowing you are treasured, known and heard.

4)  INVEST in your relationship with God.  Our only true and lasting joy comes from having a relationship with the Lord.  Everything in this life is shifting and changing.  We fill never find lasting security or joy in things that can ultimately be taken away from us (our health/beauty/youthfulness, career/wealth/possessions, marriage, friends, and family).  All of these things are temporary and there is no guarantee they will be here tomorrow. But...

Our relationship with God is something that can never be taken away.  He is our true source of joy and the only sure thing we have in this life. 

Like any other relationship, it takes time to build. It's not something that occurs overnight, but through countless hours, conversations, and experiences.  It's a lifelong commitment.  So, let's take time to invest in our relationship with God.  It begins by talking with Him regularly through prayer, studying Him through reading His word, and learning more about Him from other believers.  When we take time to get to know God, we stop focusing on ourselves and our problems, and our focus turns toward Him.  Our problems lose their intensity as He becomes magnified in our lives.

His Word is truth. By reading and studying scripture, we write truth on our hearts that sets us free from the things that entangle us and keep us from living a life of joy. These things take time and intention.  But, ultimately, a deeper relationship with the Lord leads to deeper joy in life.  Let's invest in it. I promise, it is worth it!

5)  Dare to SHARE.  We aren't meant to walk through this world alone. Yet, sometimes it feels like we do. Sharing our struggles with others may leave us feeling vulnerable and open for judgment, but bottling them up can actually cause more harm.  What we hold in can consume us.  Perhaps that's why I love to write.  Relief is found in the process of release.  In the "getting it out" I feel better, even if my problems or circumstances haven't changed.  I think if we were all a little more open with our heart struggles, we'd be surprised by the common ground we share.  We probably wouldn't feel so alone as we'd be comforted in knowing others, too, have shared in similar struggles.

The sharing of our stories can act as a bridge of comfort to a troubled heart.

Too easily we can look around us and assume that everyone else has it "all together" while we are just barely hanging on.  When others have opened up to me about their own struggles and how they have overcome, I have found comfort and hope and that I am not alone in this wrestling.

On the occasions I have allowed another person a glimpse into the window of my heart,  I have been surprised to learn how that person has similarly struggled.  It has bridged the gap and opened the door for that person to share their current struggles and be equally vulnerable with me.  In my daring to share, I have been blessed by many opened doors of unexpected friendship.  Authentic friendships birthed and welcomed on the doormat of struggle.

When I found myself stuck in a pit, I was deeply encouraged by the individuals who rallied around me, listened, prayed, and spoke truth to my hopeless, troubled heart.  Connecting with others, having a safe place to vent, and feeling understood yields to greater joy.  Sometimes God places a person right in front of us who is desperate to hear our story.  We have no idea if the sharing of our story is exactly what that person needed to hear to keep pressing on.  Hope springs from a heart that connects and no longer feels alone.  Dare to share.


To conclude, I want to share a story that has been retold in our family for nearly 60 years.  While in Sunday School one morning when my mama was just 3 or 4 years old, her teacher asked the class, "Where do you find joy?"  (Thinking that someone would respond, "down in my heart," as the age old song goes.)  However, my sweet little mama proudly responded, "In the bathtub!"  Seems accurate enough, since her mama used to put JOY, (a tried and trusted brand of dishsoap), in the bathtub to suds and bubble her up squeaky clean.

So, I ask you today, what are you bubbling over with?  Just as joy is contagious, so too, is anger, stress, bitterness and discouragement.  This is not the overflow I wish to spill out onto others.  Joy may not be our natural disposition, but with intention, we can make it our habit.  Through keeping a grateful heart, being fully present in our now, praying, investing in our relationship with God, and sharing with others, we can experience and gather joy for ourselves and joy to be shared.

Let's take the advice of a three year old who found simple joy in the bathtub of her heart.  A joy that resides so deep within us that it spills out onto the lives of those around us.  The bubbling over kind.

All for His glory,

2 comments:

  1. Amanda,

    Thank you for coming by my blog! It means a lot! I love the following quote by you in post
    "
    Our relationship with God is something that can never be taken away. He is our true source of joy and the only sure thing we have in this life.

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    Replies
    1. TJ...I have to remind myself of this often! It's a daily intentional "storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven"...some days more difficult than others as the world tries to lure us in with all of her fleeting beauty. Thanks for stopping by!

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