An Ode to Joy

What is joy, and where does it come from? Is it necessarily fleeting, a height we cannot realistically hope to maintain, or can it be a daily disposition, the ground in which we plant ourselves?

I believe that joy – both the dizzying kind and the more ordinary experiences of happiness and contentment – is a side effect of gratitude. Gratitude is something we can – and, I’ll venture to say, should – cultivate in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren. Sometimes gratitude comes without effort, unbidden, but sometimes it doesn’t. We get caught up in life’s burdens, irritations, and unfairness. Those things are real enough, and heavy. Joy can seem frivolous in the face of suffering, and gratitude can be elusive in the face of pain and grief.

In the Ministers’ Challenge, Michael and I invited you to try keeping a daily gratitude journal for two weeks. We will be wrapping up this pilot of the Ministers’ Challenge on June 10, but even if you start now, I promise that if you spend even the next ten days writing down five things a day for which you are grateful, it will shift your perspective. (If you really can’t find five things a day for which you can feel gratitude, as your minister I’d feel concerned and I hope you’d give Michael or me a call, or check in with a therapist or your doctor. Depression is a serious illness and an inability to find pleasure in life is a symptom.)

When I took up this challenge a few years ago, life definitely grew more joyful as I looked for those gratitudes I’d add to my list. The ability to find something positive in an frustrating situation, to find beauty in an “ugly” place, or to find comfort in the midst of grief, doesn’t make the bad things go away. But it balances them, and makes us more resilient in the face of adversity.

As spring gives way to full-on summer, I give thanks for this community, and for the ways you care for one another in times of celebration and sorrow, accomplishment and disappointment, struggle and success. As we sometimes say together, it is a blessing to be. It is a blessing to be here, now. It is a blessing to be here, now, together.

May your summer be grounded in a joy that sustains you through whatever struggles you may face.

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