Letting them have Joy

With the beginning of Advent and the end of American Thanksgiving, we are thrown into the joyous season of Christmas. The singing, the decorating, the preparing, the emotional jitterbugging that comes with knowing a large celebration is near. And my children are through the moon. Their anticipation is real and very very present. The crawl space has been invaded with flashlights looking for decorations, catalogues have been poured over, cookies are craved and begged for. Their joy is full. And rowdy. And furniture-leaping/sibling teasing/treat sneaking/school thwarting.

Children seem to have that unspeakable joy that bubbles up from within, a kind of joy that is only counterbalanced by the depths of disappointment. This season, not matter what your age, seems to garner a different kind of emotional response than other times of the year. And, like for my kids, that response can swing. It’s the time of year when another person’s emotional state, if in direct contradiction to yours, can rankle and chafe.

I’m having a hard time with joy this year. Maybe it’s the snowy weather where the sun hasn’t shown its face for days. Maybe it’s our time of transition where the norm is not the norm and purpose is not so clear. Maybe it’s tiredness, grief, world-weariness. But whatever it is, my emotions this season seem to be swinging from general just under the surface irritation to poignant realizations of Christ’s sacrifice. And when those realizations come during rush hour with a van full of hungry kids, you just have to figure that’s God.

I am trying to find joy. I wish that exuberant joy came easily to me like it does for my children. But my experience as a child was not one where I felt exuberance often at all. My general even nature coupled with an early family tragedy and the fallout from that meant and still means that my joy is an inward type. My laughter is there but not boisterous, my joy is sedate rather than bubbling over.

But I seek it and desire it. This kind of joy that caused David to dance in the street. An outpouring of free emotion that releases something in the body the same as a good hard cry would. Maybe it’s the unknown that makes me unsure of how to react to my children’s joy.

How much joy is too much?

That question is so much more about me than about them. Because the joy they have is a gift. I’m so grateful that they haven’t experienced the early childhood tragedies that may come. They are well, loved, cared for, and Christmas is coming.

And Christmas is coming for me too. One of the gifts I’m seeing this season is this realization of the spiritual and physical place we live in. Christ came to save us, and is coming to make all things new and right. And in the present he is Emmanuel. Because it is Christ with me that brings joy. And it is not only an exuberant joy, but also a steadfast one. One that is not dependant on presents or perfect decorations. And it extends into the everyday. It extends into the cold dark of January and the cold dark days of doubt when there isn’t the glitz and glamour of holiday merrymaking to distract us.

It’s a joy that is chosen and given. Not reliant on my own emotional state or state of being. It is a joy determinedly found and abundantly given. And I choose joy and rejoice in the joy of others. And I choose to learn again, from the example of my children, how to have unbridled joy.

Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.

Psalm 86:4