Each month, a member of the board will share a reflection on the Soul Matters monthly theme and the state of the church. The theme for December is Opening to Joy. This month’s post is offered by Shelley Buss.
This Fall I was driving solo to my son’s Saturday morning soccer game, and that particular day I was running a few minutes late with the road construction on Hwy 7. So I was a little peeved, but then all of a sudden a car came flying up besides me, the window in the back rolled down, and there was Theo with the biggest beaming smile on his face, waving like crazy at me. All my anger evaporated with the sight of that little guy so happy, so filled with joy at meeting on the road. The car sped up, the moment ended, we both continued separately to the game, and it got me thinking. To me, joy seems to occur when 3 things exist concurrently: authentic happiness, being present in the moment, and most importantly, not having any expectations for what should be happening. It just is, and you want to soak up every last drop of it.
You see, Theo is like this a lot. When I wake him in the morning he pretends he’s still asleep until he can’t contain it any more, then bursts into a smile, sometimes a song (wakey wakey eggs and bakey!), and insists on a big snuggle. And when his sister shows him a picture she just drew, he stops what he’s doing and I hear a very earnest, “Wow- that’s amazing Haley. Good job!”. And you know what? Sometimes it pisses me off. Because in those times, I turn a hard mirror to myself.
What’s stopping me from being fully in the moment or appreciative of something so much that I can block out all the surrounding distractions more often? Why do I work so hard at the “not fun” stuff but not put the same effort into the fun stuff? Challenging and changing that mindset isn’t easy when you’ve cultivated it for decades and you have places to be on time, work, cook, clean, help with homework, do laundry, etc., etc. Manage life for not only myself but two littles. I feel like I was raised to believe that joy has to be something huge and spectacular, but Theo’s everyday joys blow that nonsense right away.
A year or two ago, the texts within my “tribe” started to close with the sentence “In-joy your day.” Changing the word makes it more personal and a subtly different kind of activity. It’s a challenge to be present in the moment, let go of expectations, and see the big and small miracles happening all around you. I’ve found a couple keys that help me stay or find my way to in-joying:
- Key #1. Practice gratitude. Brother David Steindl- Rast said “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” When you get into the habit of practicing gratefulness with yourself, it will naturally bubble over and “spill” on those around you. This is a good spill. Spill away. Emotions are contagious. Model gratefulness for others so they can look at you the same way I looked at Theo waving like a madman in the car. Sometimes I think that life is smacking me upside the head as if I’m a Three Stooges stand-in, saying, look at the abundance in your life and don’t step over what’s right in front of you!
- Key #2. Less is more, eh, at least it isn’t less. See how you can apply this to your physical labors, and even career. Work isn’t going to host Christmas for you. Make your space good enough for you, not others: Covid has kind of blown away the need for keeping the house “company ready” anyway. Note: I’m not lumping in parenting with physical labor, even thought technically it may have started that way…ba doom-ching.
- Key #3. Find a picture of yourself in-joy and put it somewhere you can see it everyday. Look at it and remember- that’s you. You have the power to find joy, recreate joy and share joy with yourself and others by giving it your attention and energy. That energy provides an exponential return. I’ve included my joy picture, circa 1968 from a drug store photo booth in Robbinsdale, MN. Right after I stuck my tongue out at the camera for the shot before.
I hope in this month traditionally filled with celebrations, you in-joy each day with all that it brings.
— Shelley Buss
Member, UUCM Board of Trustees