The Battle for Joy

shadows of a palm tree

I just woke up early in my daughter’s home. There are no sounds of our freshly born granddaughter, Parker, or her mother or father. I hope they are all sleeping. Dan is deep in the twitching dreams of REM. It is the quiet time of memory. Parker is safe, sound, and already greatly loved. Today is her one-week-old birthday. It is a blessed and sweet time. I have to ask: Why do I feel weighed down?

Like the darting light and shadow that comes from passing cars on a busy Seattle street, my memory returns to the joys of holding my infants, to miscarriages, to years of barrenness, to the recent loss of a baby of one of our dear friends. Early morning is often the battleground of life and death. Joy and sorrow usually prompt me to rise quickly and make coffee. But this morning, I needed to remain quiet because I can’t escape the turmoil of joy.

It’s February and that time of year where hitting lows and feeling overwhelmed rises up. The flurry and exhaustion of Thanksgiving, Christmas madness, and New Year’s beginnings intensifies angst, and I long for a day to be alone in our home and escape into a nine hundred-page novel. That is not happening. And frankly, I cannot foresee when that might take place. How was it that Jesus was able to escape, because I cannot?

I blame myself for not being able to get away from it all. I compare myself to others who go on retreats or sabbaticals. I have done that and found myself more out of sorts and tired than if I had stayed home. Why can’t I just revel in the February dreariness and be at peace? Am I doomed to sabotage my joy? I sentence myself to comparisons and feel like everyone else lives in joy well and lives with joy when joy abounds. I feel like Eeyore. I am in a wilderness of my own making and joy is falling off my body like the rain on the window.

A little later in the morning conversation with my husband changed the trajectory of this battle. He said he fears joy more than sorrow. He was adamant that sorrow is not preferable, nor without dread, only that joy intensifies the awareness of other losses and increases our desire for what is to come. Joy boosts our sensitivity to life and death. But heartache, more often than not, dulls our senses and limits our vision of what is yet to come.

Joy makes us outliers and wanderers that suffer a different kind of sorrow.

We who confess to believe in Jesus know that what awaits us after death is more beautiful and unimaginable than we can comprehend. But we are not there yet. We are here where our loved ones are suicidal and friends are dying of cancer. Social media allows me to read of our friend’s son’s baby who was born three months early. The pending multiple surgeries their baby faces is terrifying and will require more hope and skilled care than they can bear.

I just left my bed to rescue a tired mother and brought Parker to sleep next to me. She is one of the most perfect human beings on earth. Her eyes flutter and her breathing is as rhythmic as any symphony I have ever heard. There is no physical beauty, be it a sunrise, or a one thousand foot waterfall, or a rising humpback whale that is more compelling. Beauty and wonder exists in all of creation, but this one being has captured me.

My son-in-law told me about sociologists who study joy and what the research shows is that the anticipation of a trip is actually better than the trip itself. Joy is not as simple and certainly not as lasting as we demand. Joy triggers the hunger for “the more” we were made to enjoy.

As I write, I can smell the Sunday morning pancakes that Dan is making for our granddaughter, Grace. I am learning that I don’t always have to help in the kitchen. I can wait to be served and suffer the joy of watching my granddaughter breathe. Life is a seesaw-balancing act and I choose the joy that is here and await the joy that is to come and all that dances in-between.

Originally posted on Red Tent Living.