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Facing the fear of joy and rest

The more I talk to people the more I realize that many of us have a difficult time with rest and joy.

We have trouble feeling joy fully. Have you ever found yourself experiencing something good in your life, only to find yourself waiting for that inevitable bad thing to happen next? I do that all of the time. Or when  someone gives me good news, I’m sure that bad news is soon to follow.

I feel this most acutely when I’m just relaxing with my family. When we are just at home and I look at them and feel overcome with joy for all of them, occasionally a sense of anxiety will creep in and I begin to worry about what it would be like if I were to lose any of them. How would I survive that type of pain? How could I move on?

But all this does is rob every moment spent with them of the joy that IS there. I’m not preparing myself for anything (which is what I want to believe). I’m wasting beautiful moments and squandering the experience.

The same is true for rest. When I get a chance to rest, I end up spending the entire time thinking of what I should be doing instead or what I need to do as soon as I’m done resting. I’m not actually resting at all. As a matter of fact, sometimes I just give up and get busy because getting things done would feel more restful than just sitting there stuck in the cycle of thinking about what needs to be done and feeling guilty for not doing it.

This inability to rest comes in the form of worrying, too. I’m worrying about bills or something that I need to complete soon and so I can’t really relax. If I sit down to watch a movie, my mind soon wanders to emails I need to return, calls I need to make, and bills I need to pay. If I’m at a friend’s house having dinner I begin to worry whether I locked the door or turned a light on instead of just enjoying the gift of their company.

Perhaps if we could see that joy and rest are gifts, we wouldn’t feel guilty when we experience them or be so quick to waste them. When we refuse to enjoy them, we rob ourselves. We aren’t trusting our present condition or our future. Because we inwardly believe that God can’t be trusted, we depend on our fear and thoughts to warn us about coming pain and trials and then obsess over how we would react, what we need to do, and how we can prevent these things from happening in the first place.

That’s no way to live.

I remember when I was a little girl, whenever my grandfather told me we were going to the park, I was all joy and excitement. I couldn’t wait to go and ride my bike and feel the wind against my face as I rode as fast as possible down hills and through paths. I wasn’t worried about falling and getting hurt, I wasn’t thinking about what I wasn’t getting done while I was there. I was simply living in and enjoying the present.

I was the same when I was drawing. I loved drawing when I was little. I didn’t care if it wasn’t perfect. My mind wasn’t on other tasks that I needed to do. I was fully engaged and loving the process. I was thinking about colors, and lines, and shapes, and shadows…. I was feeling my art. Now, when I draw or write or shoot (photographs), a part of my mind is disengaged. I’m thinking about all those things I need to do.

Our life here is a gift. Our time is not our own. Think about how much of it we waste worrying and trying to prepare ourselves for the worst. Think about all the joy we never experience, all the moments we ruin, all the rest we forfeit, just because we are afraid.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says that the cure for this inability to fully experience joy is gratefulness.

“For those welcoming the experience, the shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection, or simply the moment before us.”

Whenever you begin to sense that you are becoming overwhelmed with fear and it’s stealing your joy and rest, take a moment and just be grateful. Counter that fear with gratefulness for the moment. Lean into your joy and rest and trust it. Don’t feel guilty for it (I’m guilty of this one), don’t try to prepare for future disappointment or pain, and don’t let fear take over. Stop and enjoy the moment and be thankful for it.

“Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

Last weekend, I took some of my kids and one of their friends to the park to play. My older daughter and I each brought a book to read, but it was so cold that I could barely concentrate. I hate being cold and, unfortunately, I’m always cold unless it’s at least 80 degrees or so. Just then, the sun came out and took some of the chill away. It felt so good I just wanted to soak it all up. I suggested to my daughter that we turn our faces to it, close our eyes, and enjoy it. We did just that. We probably looked silly to others, but we sat there for a least a full minute or two, eyes closed, letting the sun shine on our faces and warm us. I felt complete rest and joy in those few minutes. Listening to my children laugh with their friend while swinging, sitting with my daughter, and enjoying that beautiful, sunny moment.


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