I love the first walk out with the kids when the snow melts. Pressing on thin ice till it breaks. Wading into puddles. Dropping snow into running water to see how long it takes to break through. I love the way that spring breaks through the winter, and we feel renewed by fresh air. Mostly, I love how easy it is to taste joy on that first spring walk.
My smallest kids constantly remind me that the experience of joy is usually closer than I think it is. Atti beats me again at Crazy 8s and does a victory dance. We bake cookies and Charlize licks the spoon with a satisfying sigh. A ridiculous joke breaks through tension and we all find ourselves laughing.
When I last wrote about joy at Easter, I was reflecting on the risk that it brings because good things end. Pre-emptive avoidance of disappointment is part of why I think people grow out of childhood joy. As our memories get longer, I think we also just stop being amazed by things we have seen before. But this year, I am thinking about how we equate joy and wonder and awe with immaturity. Our longing to grow up and be taken seriously slowly erodes our spontaneous experience of joy.
As we started out on the path, I called out to the kids and then stopped myself. I was going to tell them to stop, to be careful not to get their clothes dirty. And then I reminded myself we have a washing machine. We waded into puddles, tempting the water to flow over the tops of our boots. Snowballs exploded on backs. Socks got wet.
I overestimated the energy we would have when I set our destination, and not everyone was happy about the length of the walk. There was whining. Blisters made their first appearance. We sat down on a bench for a rest and I wrapped my own socks around little feet.
Several years ago, a therapist I was seeing challenged me to change my focus because “what we focus on is magnified.” It takes effort for me to focus on the smiles, the curiosity, and the creativity that give way to really feeling joy. And discipline to trust that the joy can remain even when the whining starts.
After years of grief, I still give myself explicit permission to feel joy because it is not a betrayal of the loss. In the same way, joy is still possible when things are less than perfect. A day with a few puddles in it can still be a beautiful day. Difficult seasons and years still have so many gifts in them. The vast majority of the minutes in my life are actually extraordinarily nice. And the climate in my own head seems to be the biggest factor in whether or not I can appreciate how good things actually are.
There are fifty days in the Easter season in my (Roman Catholic) tradition. It is the longest season of the year outside of ordinary time, given the least spiritual attention. I cannot speak for others, but I need a lot more practice with joy than repentance. I am keenly aware of how often I fall short, and sadly inattentive to how often I miss out on a miracle because I am busy worrying, warning, or fixating on something I can’t change.
My joy increases when I stay in the moment, let wonder co-exist with discomfort or anxiety, and practice gratitude. Joy grows when there is space for rest and play. When I see it and delight in it, joy is magnified. It is infectious when I allow the silly to break through the serious. It will not be controlled, does not come in a package, and cannot be saved.
Joy is a way of being in the world where I focus on what is good in the moment right now and recognize I have done nothing to earn it. Joy just is, and I can dwell in it, if I let myself. I have gotten in the habit of limiting my joy because it might be messy or inconvenient. I would like to break that habit. Today can be a best day ever, and tomorrow too.