practice joy

Most of the time, I don’t cook for myself.

While I use the process of creating food as a spiritual practice, the rhythmic kneading of bread an embodiment of my prayer practice, I don’t find the process of eating the works of my hands all that fulfilling.

I’m driven by what happens when I share my creation with others. The expressions on the faces of friends, family, or customers when they enjoy what I’ve made. Not the words of praise, the boost to my pride—in fact, those often make me uncomfortable. I don’t know how to respond. But the step just before. The sight of eyes closed, senses awakened. The sight of joy, and the knowledge that I use my own gifts to gift such joy to another.

 

The themes of advent are words often used without deep thought into their theological implications. Hope, peace, joy, love. But upon further study, these are words heavy with meaning as they infiltrate our daily living.

The advent theme of this week is joy.

Joy is not the same as happiness, it is not an emotion but a practice that reveals an embodied gratitude. It’s not warm fuzzy feelings or forced smiles, it’s not positive thinking or blind optimism. It’s not words of thanks that overlook reality.

Joy says no matter my pain or my sadness, my anxiety or my fear, my excitement or my fulfillment of desire, I choose to live with gratitude in the world that God has created. Joy can exist even when happiness is impossible to grasp.

It is the stubborn strength that comes from clinging our entire existence to the knowledge that the God who promises to restore all things will bring that promise to completion; it is the determination to see the glimmers of that restoration already at work in the world today.

 

I’ve always suffered from anxiety—at times debilitating. Anxiety pushed me to homeschool for half of my elementary years, it caused chronic upset stomachs. Anxiety begged me to drop out of college, and of grad school, and encouraged me to commit to more jobs than I could handle. Anxiety drove me to do a million things, or none at all, for fear that I would fail to follow God’s plan.

I’m currently in the midst of a season where I have purposefully forced myself to rest, to contend with the anxiety that plagues me. Recently, one late evening when the anxiety paralyzed and I was kept awake by a buzzing brain, I compiled a list of the small things that bring me joy.

Baking bread, dancing, writing notes to others, yoga, walking around my neighborhood.

I committed to implementing these practices into my daily schedule, attempting to address the anxiety before it hits by engaging in the very practices that remind me that even the imperfectness of the world today is still the creation God called good. And in so doing, I’ve found that following God’s will looks a lot more like living in care for the creation He’s made than following a direct set of steps or a 5-year career plan.

 

At a recent dinner with friends, we discussed how to express gratitude to God in a way that is not superficial, that does not make our own selves the center. I was reminded of something I read recently that likened our thanksgiving to a child who receives a beautiful dollhouse from its parents.

While the child should say a word of thanks, the parents’ true knowledge of the child’s gratitude comes in the enjoyment of the gift. The giggles and the smiles as the child uses the gift to enter into an imaginary world, to create stories and families where dolls become real people with real lives.

We show gratitude to God for His creation by living in it, enjoying it. While we can offer words of thanks, it is our physical actions of climbing a mountain, of digging in a garden, of savoring a delicious meal, of laughing around a table with family and friends, through which we live our gratitude. It is in doing the things that bring us joy that we give thanks to God.

 

Advent is a season of contending with what God has already done alongside the realization that there is so much left to do. Joy encapsulates these tensions, finding strength in Christ’s earlier coming, finding the hand of God in the beauty of the world as it is today, and using that strength to carry on in the restorative work Christ began, until He comes again.

In this third week of Advent, meditate with me. What are the things that bring you joy? Turn them into your spiritual discipline. Give thanks to God this season by finding joy. By looking on the world He created and, in the midst of the ache and the pangs for restoration, saying,

“Oh, and even this is already so good.”