Building Joy Muscles

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If you have ever known the experience of a sleepless night, then you know that insomnia cannot be conquered by sheer willpower alone.  The harder you attempt to capture him, the more illusive the Sandman becomes. Sleep is a gift.  On the other hand, there are things that one can do to welcome the gift of sleep (e.g. turn out the lights, reduce noise, set worries aside, remove caffeine, increase exercise, etc…).

As spring gives way to summer, the Christian Church’s liturgical cycle is getting ready to take another turn.  Over the past several weeks of the Easter Season, guided by the Sunday’s scriptures, the space of this article has explored the terrain of increasing Easter joy.  The premise of these articles has been that the one who raised Jesus from the dead, has every intention of pouring more joy into your life than you can imagine.  Easter joy, like sleep, is not a thing we can simply give to ourselves.  It is a gift.  But like sleep, there are things we can do, and choices we can make to open ourselves to more Easter joy.

Here is a brief summary of the last six weeks of Easter Skills.

Skill Number One:  Since the resurrection, the Spirit of God is as near to you as your own breath.  Therefore, listen with an inner ear.  Keep watch with an attentive eye.  See if the Spirit is attracting you toward an action plan that could result in a solid container for an outpouring of Easter joy.  Pay attention to those serendipitous ideas that pop up as potential attractions from the Holy Spirit.  You may find yourself bringing home a fresh bouquet of wildflowers for your spouse, or initiating a new, life-giving habit.

Skill Number Two:  Embrace Imperfection.  My mother’s lack of culinary skills led to a son who can eat whatever is placed before him.  In the hands of a God who redeems, imperfections are regularly transformed into life’s most important gifts.  One cannot simultaneously be an unredeemed perfectionist and love oneself or others.  To demand perfection, is to hate life.

Skill Number Three:  Develop a Community of Support.  Researchers tell us that all great achievements are the direct result of a community’s unseen hands.  Researchers also tell us that lack of a supportive community is a greater risk factor for illness and death than even cigarette smoking.  Who in your life knows you deeply enough to point out where you need to stretch and grow?  Are you open to his or her influence?  How regularly do you share at significant levels with someone(s) whom love you?

Skill Number Four:  STOP.  DROP. AND SAVOR.   Thousands of times a day, a child with a room full of toys will announce, “I’m bored.” Thousands of times a day, men and women around the world will drive past rainbows, sunsets, and stunning landscapes trapped in the maze of their obsessive thoughts.  Easter skill number four has to do with increasing awareness of all the kindness, beauty, and love that constantly surrounds you.  When you have become aware, simply stop and drop whatever you were doing for just a moment, and savor what has come into your awareness.

Skill Number Five:  Do your inner work.  Is there something in your past that seems like a stumbling block to you?  Would you be willing to take it to counseling or spiritual direction to see if God can turn your stumbling block into a building block?  Recall the story that Jenny, the Principal of a grade school, who told a room full of parents about an insensitive teacher decades ago who uttered words that could have sent Jenny’s academic career into a tailspin.  Instead, she used those words as motivation to become a great educator and leader.

Skill Number Six:  Take Custody of Your Mind.  Begin by increasing awareness of what’s renting space in your head.  When you become aware that your internal dialogue contains a negative generalization or label aimed at yourself or others, replace those messages with either a short, prayerful slogan (e.g. “Jesus,” “Let Go and Let God,” “I surrender that thought,” “My Light,” etc…), or with a realistic phrase.  For example, an automatic thought like, “I can’t stand my co-worker,” can be replaced with, “I find it difficult to get along with my co-worker.”  A small change in your internal dialogue can produce an important change in your mood and behavior.

Skill Number Seven:  As you look over the list of six skills I have enumerated, you will discover that it is incomplete.  This imperfect list provides an opening for you to have an Easter conversation with your spouse, family, community or friends.  Begin with this question, “What do you think are the necessary prerequisites for Easter joy?”  “What are some things that you have learned that provide you with joy?”  “Is there any way that you could create more space for these practices or mindsets?”  “What are the things that you have found which suck joy out of your life?”  “How have you learned to minimize these joy vacuums?”

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