How to Stop Fretting and Experience Joy

xvehwsponpc-stefan-kunzeLast night, I joined a group of creatives in town who love and follow Jesus. They gather each month to encourage the creative impulse and validate how difficult it can be to make something out of nothing.

The group’s leader, who happens to be a bestie of mine, gave us a list of questions. One of them was:

What holds you back from your dreams/imaginings…from trusting they could be possible?

Here’s how I answered:

“I didn’t know the choice I made to set out on my own, to create something out of nothing, could be so rich, so satisfying, and that the Lord would be so real in it. The problem is, now I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s like I’m preemptively grieving this goodness, to prepare for the loss of it.”

It sounds ridiculous to say, but half of the room groaned with recognition. So at least it’s not just me.

Turns out it’s not just me at all. It’s a thing that shame researcher, Dr. Brene Brown, calls “foreboding joy.” She writes about it in my favorite of her books, Daring Greatly, and defines it as the paradoxical dread that clamps down on us in moments of joy.

“Softening into the joyful moments of our lives requires vulnerability. If, like me, you’ve ever stood over your children and thought to yourself, I love you so much I can barely breathe, and in that exact moment have been flooded with images of something terrible happening to your child, know that you’re not crazy nor are you alone. About eighty percent of the parents I’ve interviewed acknowledged having that experience.”

Excerpt From: Brené Brown. “Daring Greatly.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/JIOIE.l

I didn’t know I was rehearsing tragedy to avoid being vulnerable. The problem with that is, I’m insulating myself from the experience of joy too.

And joy is one of my core values. Hmmm.7fjyrjhopk0-ethan-robertsonLast night, Steve, one of the deep rivers that runs through that creative group, was already on to some strategy for me. Turns out it’s the same one Dr. Brown recommends.

Praise. Gratitude. Thanksgiving.

He suggested I read Psalm 63, parts of which he called from memory, having used it, he said, many times himself.

Because your loving kindness is better than life. My lips shall praise you. Thus I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. Psalm 63:3-4

Dr. Brown suggests using foreboding joy as a signal to practice gratitude right away:

“Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?

If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough. ”

Excerpt From: Brené Brown. “Daring Greatly.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/JIOIE.l

It seems I need to get serious about practicing gratitude. Do you? There are five zillion ways to do it. Need ideas?

Here are a few from MindBodyGreen.

Here are a few from Gratefulness.org.

Here are some good scriptures on gratitude.

When Oprah is grateful she journals it.

Many people on Pinterest jot their thanks on paper and put them in a jar.

How about a Reverse Bucket List? That’s a cool idea.

Try it and the next time you feel foreboding joy, see if you can’t arrest it and just feel joy. That’s what I plan to do. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Your Purpose – Explained By Downton Abbey

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Imagine if he’d lived.

I’ve recently become addicted to Downton Abbey. Yes, I know I’m late to the party. I usually avoid shows like that because I am weak. I am drawn to my couch, popcorn and tv shows, like an alcoholic to vodka, and like the alcoholics say, one is too many and two is not enough.

Approximately four episodes in yesterday, (it might have been five, don’t judge) I had the following thoughts:

  1. My house would look a lot better if I had servants.
  2. Every member of Downton Abbey dreads the same thing:

Redundancy. Lack of purpose and meaningful work.

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Poor Mosley.

Their concern is not just economic – though it is that. It’s a deeper and perhaps more familiar issue than we care to admit.

Mosely the valet is bubbly at the chance to serve Lord Grantham, then crushed to find Mr. Bates back on scene. Lord Grantham is thrilled at being sent to lead troops on the front lines, then humiliated to find his role was titular only. The women scheme constantly for a husband and a house, so they might have something more to do than dress for dinner.

It’s interesting because despite the social stratification, the human condition runs through every vein in the grand Abbey.

Put another way: We’re built for purpose and lacking one, we cobble and scrap for it; by helping a grown man get dressed or relentlessly meddling in the affairs of the grandchildren.

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Go on – practice making the Dowager Countess face.

But as Captain Matthew, the on-again off-again heir to Downton said, it’s all shifting sand. That’s why the characters plot and maneuver all the time. Don’t even get me started on these two.

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Got to have a villain.

Misery and self-promotion are rarely far from each other, and I think we’re loath to admit how we often we engage both. It’s not just that we fear the economic ruin of getting sacked, it’s that many of us completely lack identity outside the one provided by our work.

So when the sand shifts, we panic, secretly thinking:

“If I’m not this, who am I?”

Are you miserable in your job, but terrified to leave? Retiring soon? In possession of a “good job” that feels to you like eating a whole sleeve of saltine crackers?

If so, perhaps wrestling the question, “Without this, who am I?” is a useful, if terrifying, first step.

I was forced into answering it myself seven years ago. Standing on the back porch of the historic, if crumbling, farm house Sam and I bought on a windy West Texas ranch. I got everything I said I wanted and discovered it wasn’t enough.

I stood there howling into wind. “What am I doing with my life?”

When you’re that loud about it, I believe someone is bound to answer, and someone did. It still pains me to think of that time, but I don’t even recognize that girl now.

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I’ve recently begun a new venture that I hope to roll out next week. It’s a tool really to help you answer three questions:

  1. Who created me?
  2. What for?
  3. And how do I do that?

I’ve learned the hard way, I cannot be the center of my own life. There too many days I wake up depressed or fearful and lack the fuel to drive myself in any other direction. On those days, self-help is, by definition, a mobius strip.

I now have a supremely reliable external power source, a fire burning in me that someone else lit. I believe all of us have that fire, it may just need a little stoking.

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They’re catching fire.

If you are lost, feeling useless or done, or like the ladder you’ve been climbing leans against the wrong building altogether, I invite you to subscribe, so you can come along as we grow and figure out together what it means to catch fire.

I promise, I hardly have it all figured out, but I’m hot on the trail and I don’t want to travel alone. As the African proverb says:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Help for the Winter Blues

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My friend Cassie is, like me, a bit of a word freak. Years ago, she taught me a new, old word; one that’s so old in fact, it’s not used anymore. And that’s a shame because it’s a good one, particularly, if you struggle to manage January’s long, dark hours.

The word is apricity and it means the warmth of the sun in winter.

A delightful word for a delightful thing, as Merriam-Webster describes it, the word apricity entered the lexicon in the 17th century, but evidently, never caught on. It is not found in any modern dictionary.

It was cold in Texas over the weekend, but clear and blue, just like it is, minus the snowdrifts, in the high plains desert of New Mexico or the Colorado Rockies. I recall a thousand times, pausing on my cross country skis in the still, white silence of the Blanco Basin and turning my face to the sun, letting the warmth of it settle into my bones, like glitter fluttering to the ground on New Year’s Eve.

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Sam enjoying apricity. – Blanco Basin. Colorado. 2007

Yesterday, I headed out with my dogs, and as I walked out of the shade of our pine grove, the sun hit my back.

Apricity! I thought, and a little shiver rolled up my spine. It made me think of Cassie too. She’s an artist and I wonder if she’s ever painted how apricity feels.

As I walked around the lake, the breeze rustled the bullrushes and I stopped and looked up, staring at a sky I’d call Colorado blue. It only occurs certain times of year in Texas, and it’s beautiful particularly when the trees, stripped of their leaves, stand naked in contrast to it.

I felt the Lord saying, Look up! Keep looking up. That’s where the beauty and promise is. And yet, how often, when I’m discouraged, do I fix my eyes on the asphalt and mud.

When we are dark and cold – wrestling with depression, fear or discouragement – we can always look up and let the sun hit our faces. Apricity is free.

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But some days the sun just isn’t out. So, here are two other strategies:

Kindness:

My pastor often says, when you’re feeling shriveled and dry, like that wrinkled, creepy guy – Gollum – in Lord of the Rings, the antidote is to squeeze out a drop or two of kindness from whatever reservoir you have left. Hold a door for a stranger, let another driver in your lane. Encourage someone – anyone. Tell someone they have a lovely smile. It’s amazing what torrents of living water rush through you after you have watered someone else. Especially when you don’t feel like it.

Community:

Have you seen that meme on Facebook this week, where people are offering a cup of tea and a listen to anybody feeling depressed in the dark hours of the new year? What a smart impulse.

When the darkness beckons us back into bed, to dwell on all the things that are not, people on Facebook are offering a “cuppa” as my British and Aussie friends call it. Who doesn’t feel better after a good cup of tea in the warmth of a friend’s living room? It’s a brave and effective way of beating back the darkness. It’s the human expression of apricity.

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After spending some time in African cultures lately, this is something I admire in them very much. The friendship. The solidarity in suffering. The impulse toward togetherness. It’s beautiful and I’m afraid we in the West have gone the opposite way – favoring privacy, individuality and solitude. Don’t get me wrong, those thing have value too, but when you’re stuck in the cold dark hours of winter, you need sunshine and friends.

Did you ever notice, Jesus never sent the disciples out alone? They always traveled at least two-by-two, and they were warmed by the light of the world.

There’s probably something to that.