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contemplating joy

November 13, 2010
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I’ve been thinking a lot about joy today.

Not happiness or contentment, but straight-up, soul-jiggling, toe-tingling, life-altering joy: the kind that is present even in shadowed days, where happiness isn’t exactly hanging around and when the going is harder than you’d like.

Right now, my life is probably, in simple rational terms, the most difficult it’s ever been. Between work and school, my weeks are longer than ever before. Money-wise, I’m more broke than I’ve been since I became an independent adult and have very little to fall back on in terms of financial security. As I get older, relationships have only become more complicated instead of less. And the more I am learning, the more I realize I know next to nothing. My world is simultaneously shrinking and opening up in a way that makes my head spin and my heart ache.

Yet I feel more full of joy than I have ever felt in these past 26 years. Sometimes, I feel so overwhelmed with joy that I don’t even know what to do; laughing and crying at the same time feels about right yet like not even close to enough. That center of my chest, whether it’s my heart or soul or emotions or feelings, overflows with joy to the point that it feels almost painful, so entirely unreal that one person could contain that much. And the thing is that I know I can’t — the Holy Spirit, the goodness and creativity and essence of God that makes its home in all my corners and nooks, streams out of my pores constantly because I wasn’t designed to contain it. All I can do is leak it out into the world, in my own small ways, hoping that those pinpricks of light in the darkness will join your pinpricks and her pinpricks and his pinpricks and their pinpricks and be a part of something true and beautiful.

I know that my world is small. I’ve been told I am prone to optimism more easily than others and I don’t pretend that I am not somewhat naive in the ways of the world. I realize that my life has been a great deal “easier” than the lives of others and that my exposure to the things that harden is rather minimal. But yet still, I find that when faced with a person that leaches bitterness and anger and contempt, I feel unusually wounded simply being in their presence because I want so badly for them to know this joy that is my lifeblood. It is unbearably sad and breaks me in that center of my chest to know that a person faces life with that much hardness. I know I cannot personally change that just by smiling and chirping about finding joy in life’s details. I don’t really know what I can do but keep offering my pinpricks because in the end, those dots of light are the truest things I know.

I think that is why this blog borrows the name of CS Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy. I cannot think of a way of approaching life that is more natural or centering to me than posturing myself towards the joy of living, in ways small and large, letting intense wonderment wash over me. It is the best way I have found to live.

I acknowledge the world is a hard place to live in. I know that there is much around us that screams at us to stop hoping, stop looking for joy, stop believing in love, stop persisting that things can change and be better and truer. But giving up feels like the most hopeless way possible to live. And if there is another way, even if it seems stupid or naive, I’ll take it. Not because it feels nicer or helps me sleep better, but because I truly believe that the good stuff is what lasts (even if it’s not what you hear about the most).

These days, it is in those delicately hopeful details that I meet God more than ever before. I see Him in the twisted vines that lace up the school fences I walk by each morning, in plunging my hands into the warm elasticity of freshly kneaded bread dough, in the giggles of my niece as she races towards me smiling, in the quiet nights spent in gentle awe at the twinkling lights and softness of my favorite blanket. I discover joy in the aching laughter of my community of friends and family, as we eat together, drinking wine, exposing our most vulnerable faces and finding solace just being in each others’ company.

I feel more grateful than words exist to describe at this well-worn life that I get to live. I see my life as a quilt, made up of fabrics that are both colorful and faded, each with its own story, some more hard-earned than others, many of them soaked in a hardy love that outlasts the years despite evidence that it shouldn’t. Quirky, funny, sad, silly, lonely, utterly unexpected. Every day, more and more squares are added and I choose to behold something joyful in each and every one.

And it will never stop amazing me.

What brings you joy?

P.S. This recent teaching from my church is a really fantastic resource about this subject.

[photo credit here]

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kasey Torsky permalink
    November 13, 2010 7:33 pm

    Thanks for that Caroline. In the midst of this 15 page Capstone nursing paper, I really needed that! Your words always make me smile;-) And you know what brings me joy? Seeing that there’s people like you still in this world!!!!

  2. Aban Jasoomani permalink
    November 14, 2010 10:12 am

    dear friend from far a far away place,

    that was a beautifully written post. it resonated with my soul-jiggling, toe-tingling, self.

    cheers to JOY!


  3. Caroline permalink*
    November 21, 2010 1:09 pm

    @ Kasey!

    I’m glad my words could help provide a respite from your giant paper. 🙂 And I’m not the only one left in the world — I think there are a whole lot of us “like this” wandering around. Just gotta look for ’em.

  4. Caroline permalink*
    November 21, 2010 1:11 pm

    @ Aban!

    Cheers, indeed, far-away friend! 😀

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