The fight for joy has been a slow and steady one.
At this time one year ago I was anxious, stressed, and constantly wondering what I should be doing. I was in bondage, my edges frayed from worry. I frantically searched for a job because I worried we wouldn’t have enough money to buy food or pay property taxes. I was unable to sit on the couch and relax; my eyes fitfully scanned the contents of our house as I took mental notes about what needed improvement. I scoured Pinterest and the Good Housekeeping magazines at work. “How to clean a rusty toilet,” “How to organize a small kitchen,” “How to paint a wooden dresser.” I wanted to know how I was supposed to be doing things, thinking that much of my validation came from owning a house that followed certain societal rules. I somehow worried that choosing the wrong shade of gray for our tiny hallway would lose me friends. (Yes, soon after that I became strikingly aware that I was in need of therapy.)
It wasn’t until my counselor graciously pointed out my habit of saying the word “should.” I’d reveal a struggle to her in counseling and she’d offer a question in return, like “well, have you tried ____?” I’d then think and say, “Hmm, no. But I should.” I said it so much that she finally held a figurative mirror up to my words, basically saying, “Do you hear yourself?”
I was holding myself in bondage. I was the bird that stays in the cage after the door’s been opened because I don’t realize I’m allowed to leave. I wanted permission to be set free, permission to be myself, permission to let go. But I never asked for it and I never realized that I could give myself that permission. I didn’t have to live under the power of “should” anymore. As she so eloquently put it, I needed to “wipe the ‘should’ off my face.”
Never would I have thought cheesy-but-clever wordplay would be the beginning to the setting free of the anxiety weighing down my soul. I began to feel lighter. Decisions came easier once I realized that the Holy Spirit was in me and I could trust His provision in my life. He trusts me to make decisions and His grace covers the ones that go awry. Rather than needing to ask some random force of nature, some made-up ethereal being whether a decision of mine was okay, I could ask God, and I could ask myself, “Does this bring about the fruit of the Spirit? Does this glorify God? Is this decision made out of love rather than fear?” And if my heart said yes I could follow it knowing with confidence that God looks at the heart behind a decision, not whether it was “right” or “wrong.”
So now I’m feeling more clear-headed, more confident in who I am and what I want. I don’t live in as much fear as I did before. A floodgate of freedom is pouring into my heart and slowly changing the way I live.
Freedom was one of my words this year. A while back I had a friend who told me she picks a few words for each year and prays that God will teach her more about them. I loved that idea. This year freedom was my first word. It was obvious to me that I needed it.
To be honest, I can’t remember whether my other word was grace or joy, but luckily it doesn’t matter much because they’ve come hand-in-hand. My fight for freedom happened during the first half of the year, very subconsciously, with God as my guide. Now that I’m in the second half, I’m realizing that God has already been leading me in the direction of joy. And His grace is what has carried me through both words.
What I’m convicted about now in my search for joy is my lusting after someone else’s life. There’s not one person in particular, I just find myself browsing through Instagram and Facebook only to desire the life that someone else appears to be living.
The key word here is “appears.” It’s obvious that on social media people tend to post photos of the fun and beautiful moments. They could even post a pretty picture of a moment that was horrible in real life, but those of us on the outside would never know. We don’t know what’s staged or candid; we see a photo and we think what the person wants us to think.
This has been dangerous for me. It’s been getting in the way of joy. I’ve romanticized the lives of others so much that the beauty of my own has grown dull. I long for a fallacy, a day dream that I’ve patched together with pieces of others’ lives.
God wants better for me, for us. He doesn’t want me to romanticize a false reality, He wants to romance me in my reality.
And I want to fall in love with the reality of God, not the illusion of someone else’s life.
Who said it, “Comparison is the thief of joy”? I think they were onto something. Why would I want to give a thief any power over my life? Thieves come only to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus came so that we may have life–and have it abundantly.
I choose abundance.