Joy Vacuum

One thing I have noticed in my life is the importance of joy. Not the intense-coming to a birthday party-treat bag-cake-8 year old- type of joy. No, the kind of joy that is peaceful, all permeating, day-to-day delights. But something that I have noticed is that though in our own selfish heads and our own culture we think that the joy we must cultivate every day is our own joy, our own happiness, this is misguided. Stick with me here.

I have been grumpy for the past 5 days or so. I have had a head cold, but am not able to lie in bed and doctor myself the way I would like. My servants have not been catering to my every whim like they should be, meals do not appear prepared on a silver tray for my delection, people do not feel my forehead lovingly and speak in hushed tones of pity that I feel the way I do. I have a job, I have children who need my care and don’t understand another person’s sickness, I have a loving husband who also has a job so can’t provide the silver platter meals like I’m sure he would want to (love you, Honey). This has left me a little bit sorry for myself and disgruntled. My joy has not been there and the fact that others have not been all consumed with my comfort has, at times, if I’m honest, been unfair.

In those quiet moments when we are feeling put upon and sorry for ourselves, a wellspring of joy doesn’t seem to be present and that is sad. But, in the midst of my sickness and sorry-for-myselfness I was made aware of something. A loving person close to me (love you, Honey) hugged me and told me gently that though I was sick and he was sorry for that, I was taking joy from the lives of others through my impatience and (not his words) self-centeredness. I was looking at my own situation and feeling like it was up to others to provide joy for me and realized that in expecting that, I was depriving them of joy.

One of the gifts that my mother gave me growing up was that she was, and still is, a master at entering into the joy of others. Even as a small child when I would bring her a dead dandelion she would proudly display it, remark on its beauty, size, uniqueness. She made me feel that what brought me joy also brought her joy. And I believe her. It wasn’t fake, she just has this gift of seeing what brings others joy and entering into that with them.

Think of something that you were proud of, something that you were excited about, something that was wondrous to you. Remember that time you told a person and they entered into that excitement with you, genuinely glad for you? They saw that something had happened for you, you had been rewarded, vindicated, surprised by your own joy, and they entered in with all their heart. Remember how good it felt as a child to be able to show a caterpillar you found and have someone respond like it was a new wonder for them even though this was the 1000th time they had seen it? Remember how good that felt? How good it feels?

Think of something that you were proud of, something you were excited about, something that was wondrous to you. Remember the time you told a person and they looked at you and said “So”? Remember how you were proud of something, felt vindicated, and another person told you all the reasons why you shouldn’t be proud or excited? Remember how you said you liked something or something was important to you and another person made it all about them and how they hated that something and the conversation turned? Remember how bad that felt? How bad that feels?

In the midst of my life, I do sometimes wonder if in the pursuit of my own joy, the pursuit of my own desires and fulfillment I forget that my joy is multiplied as I embrace and participate in the joy of others. When I look at my 6-year-old as he holds up his Lego creation for me and I see the hope in his eyes, what an opportunity I have to receive great joy as I give joy. I can quickly do due diligence to his pride and say “oh, it’s nice Sweetie” or I can carefully take the work of his hands and give it the examination it deserves. I can look at the hard work my husband has done on an engine and commend the work of his heart and hands. I can congratulate a friend on their new job, the book they’ve discovered (even though I read it long ago). I can see the stars in the eyes of someone as they tell me how an idea they had was confirmed and the pride they feel.

I can realize that people share their joy as a way of connecting and what a privilege it is that they want to connect with ME. What an honor it is to share someone’s joy. A person’s joy can be vulnerable but it is meant to be shared, celebrated, embraced, respected. In this connection, in sharing someone’s joy, I realize that along with my inwardly focussed joy, there is joy to be shared, to be given and received. In those places where I lose my joy, I forget that another person’s joy can remind me of the joy I’ve forgotten. Another’s joy reflects upon me and my celebration of their joy renews my joy as well.