Creating a Container for Joy

At eighteen months old, my daughter had decided that it was time to reclaim her birthright lost by Adam and Eve on that ancient fateful day in the Garden of Eden. At our secluded tent camping site in northern Michigan, Annalise freed herself from the unnatural confines of be-diapered living to commune with nature as God had intended before the stain of original sin. As my wife and I attended to the hundred chores that come with tent camping, our miniature Lady Godiva reconnoitered our little campsite to locate toddler objects of interest.

Her search uncovered a butterfly that promptly invited her to a Mid-summer’s morning romp. The two of them were kindred spirits. Unencumbered by the weight of object permanence, both of their intellects would flit between interest and disinterest in one another. As a wild flower, or a leaf entered either one of their fields of vision, one and then the other would briefly lose awareness of their companion. As the momentarily forgotten orange/black winged playmate floated back into view (and hence into consciousness), Annalise would make a toddler’s version of a dash toward her insect-friend. The closer my daughter’s hand came to grasping her colorful quarry, the further away the arcs of gossamer color would fade. Whenever Annalise contented herself with some nearer object of interest, the butterfly would gradually meander closer.

Many years ago, I learned that I have a lot in common with the toddler versions of my kids. Over the years I have noticed that, periodically, my wife will surface a particular request. That request is connected to an area in the relationship where I could grow in my ability to respond to her needs. Like a butterfly-chasing toddler with a limited span of attention, I tend to focus upon her request for a period of time, and then it is as if her stated need floats out of my mind again. Like a butterfly camouflaged within summer foliage, I lose sight of her request. This pattern that mimicks a small child’s lack of object permanence limits the joy that my marriage is meant to give each of us. In my practice, I have discovered that I am not alone. The tendency to lose sight of the disciplines that deliver sustained joy and deeper love is embedded within the DNA of fickle human nature.

Have you ever noticed how many resurrection episodes were recorded throughout the four Gospels? In John’s Gospel alone, there are five distinct narratives. It was as if the authors understood the limited attention span of the audience of believers. The way chapters “Twenty,” and “Twenty-one” of John’s Gospel unfolded, it was as if the disciples were taken by surprise each and every time they discovered, yet again, that Jesus had been risen from the dead. Perhaps it was not so much that Thomas or the rest were doubting. It may be more that the concept of resurrected living was a lot for a human heart and mind to absorb. In reading these five accounts back-to-back, it was as if the disciples had to have Jesus’ resurrection etched into their minds and hearts over and over again the way a toddler has to learn through repetition…the way that spiritual maturity requires the nurture of daily and weekly rituals.

Lent is normally associated with various ascetical practices aimed at conversion. Easter is normally associated with joy. For many of us though, if the gossamer gift of joy is to float closer to us, then we will need to create a better landing pad for it in our lives. Some process of ongoing conversion will be necessary to receive a further sharing of the gift of Easter joy.

Through the fifty days of Easter, what are some Easter disciplines that you can employ to provide a structure for more Easter joy to land in your life? Several years ago, Lisa and I lined up a marriage counselor who helped us create a structure that allowed us to respond more effectively to one another’s requests. I know a couple whose Easter discipline will involve a once-a-week date night where the kids will be dropped off at a relative’s home. With the house to themselves, this couple hopes to catch a renewed glimpse of a marital intimacy that had been lost in the forest of chores, work, and parental responsibilities. I know a man who has asked a friend to serve as his personal trainer, so that he can hold himself accountable for several sessions of exercise a week. I know a woman who has decided, that in addition to the Sunday Eucharist, she will attend at least one or two other Masses per week.

Thirty Seconds that Will Change your Life
An almost invariant prescription designed to boost the quotient of love and joy in a family goes like this. Find a landmark five minutes from home. As you pass that landmark, intentionally shift your awareness and resolve to greet each family member with a delight that is expressed in your eyes, your words, your smile, and your physical contact. Then, when you pass through the threshold of your home, execute this plan for a full thirty seconds. Discharge this discipline unilaterally, without regard to the response. Follow through on this burst of unconditional delight regardless of the state of your home (messy or clean). You can still reserve your right to chastise or lecture, but wait until you have thoroughly taken delight in each person for thirty seconds.

If you have thirty more seconds to invest, then repeat this exercise at bedtime. Make sure that the last thing your family members experience as they take leave of you is a burst of unconditional delight. Do you have thirty more seconds? Repeat this exercise as they greet you in the morning.

My own iterative research has found that the most powerful of the three exercises takes place as you come home from a day apart. What I have found through a decade of this practice is that, if you engage in just thirty seconds of a Burst of Unconditional Delight for forty days, your marriage and your family will be happier. If you are able to extend that beyond coming home to include bedtime and a morning greeting, then the effect will be exponentially increased.

What is a specific, intentional practice you could fold into these weeks before Pentecost that could keep you focused, and open you to a fuller sharing of Easter joy?

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