Choosing Joy in 2023
This year, I’m choosing joy.
It think I have been looking desperately for joy for at least the past three years.
Divinity school was, at times, an excruciatingly isolating, fracturing, and unpleasant experience. Partly because the pandemic disrupted and broke down many of the expectations and possibilities for academic, spiritual, and social fulfillment.
And then, right on the heels of graduation, and in the middle of a major move, Daniel got very sick and was hospitalized. He is doing so much better. In fact, even better than he was doing before. But that fear stays in your body even when the news is good and the results come back in the clear.
As a result of years of instability, I spent the first six months of employment as a clergy person in a bit more of a topsy-turvy and questioning emotional state than I would wish on anyone. I was also physically ill and sick from stress every few weeks.
And, when things got overwhelming, it always felt like the first thing I was willing to give up was joy.
By joy, I mean lightness. Buoyancy. Laughter. A simple sense of belonging: in the moment, within myself.
I kept feeling like I had to choose other, “more important” things. Spend a little bit more time preparing (aka worrying). Get to sleep a bit earlier. Repress the more bubbly parts of my personality in order to be taken seriously.
But then, I would come home and sit on the couch and wonder why it all felt so heavy. So un-fun. I started wanting to get in touch with my child-self. The self who managed to be myself even when life was ordered for me and fundamentally out of my control.
I started realizing what I was missing was the expectation that life could bring joy.
A Rule of Life
So I started asking what I wanted my “Rule of Life” to be.
A Rule of Life is a set of ideals, habits, and daily practices that help form us toward a particular life ethic. It’s more than obligation. It’s ultimately about reorienting life toward spiritual fulfillment and simplicity.
I had tried to make a Rule of Life before, but it all felt like a chore. With this new sense that a Rule could be intended for my joy, I sat down and made a list of what I wanted to do more regularly.
I wanted to read a little bit each day, walk and rollerblade around my neighborhood, sing, and dance. I wanted to do things that delighted me, even if they didn’t have any purpose beyond that.
Framing joy as a Rule of Life imbues it with the importance it deserves. It becomes a mandate of my spiritual life and vocation rather than a thing I can “get around to” when I can spare the time (which, if not prioritized, is never).
I really believe that finding moments of bright, silly, embodied joy is imperative to living my life well. And not just for me: for my husband and family and congregation. And maybe even the whole world.
I spent the weekend with old friends. We rented a house for a friend’s wedding. After years apart, we settled back into the familiar rhythms of our life together. Making drinks, holding babies, gathered around a tray of shrimp cocktail on New Year’s Eve.
I had remembered that part of my life as one of deep joy, but also social anxiety and questioning about my future. With three years of growth, isolation, and distance from the life I built in my twenties, I came back into this group having shedded a lot of that social and vocational insecurity.
I came back with the softness and lightness of joy. I noticed myself laughing with abandon. And, for once, not worrying about whether I was too much.
Life is so hard. And we can’t will it to get better. We can’t know what twists and turns are coming.
So, this year, even if it’s sort of a pain. Or I’m tired. Or someone tells me I’m wasting my time or not taking things seriously enough, I am choosing joy. Lightness, laughter, and intense gratefulness.
I am going to do things I want to do even if it might make me look ridiculous or take up time I could be spending on “more important” things that don’t really matter when all is said and done. I am going to stand by my convictions and remember that I have the capacity to make good decisions for myself.
When I look back on the last three years, I see sorrow and incredible fear. But I also see how I have stayed true to myself, trusted my discernment, leaned on wise mentors, and followed my dreams even when it was incredibly inconvenient and just plain hard.
If I can endure and persist in hardship, surely I can insist on joy.
A Prayer for the New Year
Credited to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux but written by Minnie Louise Haskins
May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.