How, oh how, do we maintain joy in our lives? Especially as we approach the glorious Christmas season, when the mayhem of gift-shopping and parties and kids’ concerts and work deadlines press in.
Well, I’m no expert. But recently I was asked to speak on this topic to a group of mums (MOPS). So, here is my response. Three things I’ve learnt to burn down in order to maintain joy, freedom and growth in my life. Truth be told, they’re three things I am continually burning down. Perhaps they will help you step into the coming months with a deep residing peace.
BONFIRE #1: ADDICTION OR BAD HABITS
You’re probably thinking drugs, smoking, sex, gambling…
But addiction exists in our lives in subtler ways than that, you could even look at bad habits as a kind of addiction. You eat half a block of chocolate each night while watching TV before going to bed because it gives you a sugar high and something to do while watching mindless crime dramas. You’re addicted to the sugar, the rhythm.
Coffee. Nuff said.
We’re talking anything you feel you can’t do without. Anything you turn to as a kind of medication when things are hard.
Back in 2016 I set myself a New Years Resolution not to buy any new clothes for a whole year. I was only allowed to shop second-hand, so think op shops, gumtree, Facebook marketplace, markets… The only thing I was allowed to buy new were undies, which I think was pretty fair.
I was completely uncomfortable with how I was contributing to the fast fashion beast.
However, I learnt that shopping for me was a bit of an addiction. I would shop to make myself feel better. I would seek that surge of adrenaline from spending when I was feeling low, or even if I was bored. I would do it to avoid facing my problems head on. A kind of escapism.
Towards the end of the ‘year of no new clothes’, I actually stopped buying clothes completely. By then I’d learnt to make healthier choices when I felt the urge to self medicate with a spending spree. I would go for a walk or run, I’d call a friend and chat things through, I’d pray. That kind of thing.
It totally changed my life.
These days, I’ve lost my appetite for fashion somewhat, and I shop second-hand as much as possible. But most importantly, I can identify my emotions and address them in healthier ways.
That’s amazingly freeing! It maintains my joy and it challenges me to character growth.
BONFIRE #2: THE BUSTLE
We live busy and complicated lives.
As women, we wear so many hats. I am frequently overwhelmed by how much is asked and expected of me.
But when I step back and have a think… the truth is that most of those expectations come from myself. Not from others. The steering wheel is in my hands and I can decide where to go from here.
So I’ve learnt to burn down the bustle.
Being busy doesn’t equal importance. It’s not good for my health (bodily and mentally). It’s definitely not good for my family.
I say “No” much more than I ever used to. How? Whenever I am asked if I would like to take on a new responsibility, no matter how much my heart leaps out of my chest with excitement at the new opportunity, my response is this:
“That sounds wonderful! I’ll have a think about it, talk to the hubby, pray about it, and get back to you in the next week.”
Note: I’ve given myself time to fully measure the impact this new thing will have on me and my family. I’ve acknowledged that God and family come first. And I’ve set a deadline so the asker isn’t kept hanging, nor is the ask hanging over my head for too long.
I also have very clear boundaries.
Which I frequently break. But they are definitely there and I allow my husband to point them out to me when I’m doing badly.
For example, work boundaries. I work from home, so it’s particularly important that I define my work time. I do things like email my colleagues once I’m done for the week, a kind of “over and out, see you next week” email to remind them that I won’t be responding to emails for the rest of the week.
It’s a bit of a family rule that we not have screen time on Sundays. No TV, iPad and very limited phone use.
We always eat dinner around the table. It’s a bit of a non-negotiable, so it’s rare for us not to be seated together for dinner every night.
Extremely important things.
Things that banish bustle.
And if you want to know another crazy way we’ve practically done this in our family, you should read about our three-month caravanning adventure last year.
BONFIRE #3: APATHY
We’ve looked at burning things down that aren’t healthy for our body, mind and relationships. I believe that apathy (that is, the absence of any interest or care or enthusiasm) is like poison to our souls.
Early motherhood often sees us mums battening down the hatches. We have a very pointed purpose in raising and nourishing a newborn. And we definitely go through seasons when we have to stop and turn our attention inwards.
But it’s important we don’t remain there.
If we think of our spirit as a flower, it follows that we have to water it, so that it flourishes and finds its full height and colour. Apathy is like a big old boot stomping that flower into the soil
So how do you burn something down like apathy?
Actually, this one’s pretty easy.
It’s all about keeping a forward momentum. It doesn’t have to be a sprint. In fact, for goodness sake, don’t sprint! Besides making the rest of us look lazy, it’s not usually sustainable. Just set a consistent pace, a plod even, but always forward.
As you know, I’m a bit of a New Years Resolution junkie. I like setting myself goals.
This year I committed to reading a Psalm every weekday. This was forwards momentum for me, something to diligently feed my spirit and propel me onward in my faith.
Other ways to burn down apathy and water your spirit:
- Taking walks in nature – no headphones, just space for clearing out the head, for prayer.
- Creating. I find it immensely satisfying to sit down for an hour with my paints and create. It’s not about output. I don’t have to have something to show for my time. The act of creating feeds my spirit, makes me feel alive.
- Giving. Responding to need unfurls my petals and makes me feel connected to my community.
- Reading. Or podcasting. Gleaning wisdom from others prompts me to empathy, to understand the big wide world and its inhabitants from different angles.
- Involvement. Being part of something bigger than myself is a certain antivenom for apathy.
So there they are. Three things to burn down so that joy is a constant friend.
Burn it down: bad habits/addictions, the bustle and apathy.
And I’ll end by saying this:
Joy is not dependent on circumstances. It’s an expression of our spirit that will remain even when times are tough, if we take measures to protect and nurture it.
Some questions for you to mull over:
- What is an addiction/bad habit that you could burn down?
- What is your biggest barrier to growth? (remembering that ‘growth’ is simply forwards momentum, at any pace)
- If your life is too busy, what can you begin saying “No” to? How can you build clear boundaries to protect your time?
- How can you water your spirit? (What’s something that makes you feel truly alive?)