Few things in life I loved more than being a mom. I spent many years dreading the approaching emptiness that grown children leave behind. My husband worried that this change would do me in. Nearly all change is hard for me, but that one seemed especially cruel. So spending time with my brother and his young children always brings an envious, nostalgic smile to my face. Nothing like three chicks under 10 to infuse new life into an empty nest. After they’ve gone home from a visit, my house seems so quiet and dull. Mostly, what remains with me is their sheer joy. That is what I miss more than anything! I wondered how we adults lose that joy so easily.
Truth is, we’ve had it beaten out of us. We’ve all been through the wringer. If you haven’t yet, you will. No one gets through life unbroken. One key to surviving this place is to figure out where your joy comes from. That takes some serious soul searching, because often what we think brings us joy just brings us temporary happiness. We should, must, make sure the source of our joy is complete and lasting. Only a faith in God through Jesus Christ will provide that. Everything else is a poor substitute, a temporary fix, or a near-miss. You can’t impose that on another human being or a circumstance or anything physical. Those are all finite and will buckle under the weight of that infinite responsibility. Temporal happiness-makers were never meant to give us joy.
Another key is to protect your joy at all cost. Anything valuable can be stolen, including, especially, your joy. You have to, quite literally, guard it with your life. This requires you to look at that life closely. Identify and call out the enemies of your joy. One of the big joy-stealers for me is my health circumstance. And the change that has been forced on me. Sometimes I lose the joy when all I see are the things I can’t do. But I have learned that even those changes can trigger a mindset of joy, instead of take it.
With the forced change in my (now shorter) schedule come new routines. We are eating surprisingly tasty no-sodium meals now that we cook at home, and we have a new shared hobby of finding recipes and even some new kitchen gadgets. On our trips for checkups to the Cleveland Clinic, we look forward to some awesome outlet malls along the way. (Well, at least I do.)
My daughter, my husband, and I tried yoga for the first time while I was still wearing my Life Vest. The tight shocking vest and the camera-like device hanging around my neck made some of the poses a little tricky. Still, not as tricky as the ones my husband was trying, for some reason. We have a great memory of that.
Since I’m a belly sleeper, I had to get a new pillow to accommodate the device that prominently sticks out of my chest area. I hadn’t had a new pillow in 10 years! (And I bought a really nice one.) Change can be quite relaxing, I’ve discovered.
We never had time to slow down before my illness, and now my husband and I enjoy evenings at home. We started watching old television series like The Wonder Years and Downton Abbey. As I rest out of necessity, we read and talk again. We have reclaimed some time together that would have evaporated into another obligation. That has been a gift to me, experiencing again why this guy has been my best friend for most of my life. After more than two decades in the daily role of parenting with him, I am now reminded of why I chose him in the first place.
Finally, changes in my life have brought the urgency, the courage, the need, to write after talking about it for decades.
An old friend told me about five years ago after his wife died and his kids didn’t want to sell the house, “Life is about navigating the changes.” I didn’t know then how much I would need those words. Change can be a joy-killer. But I remind myself that change has also saved my life. Recent advances in cardiac medication rescued my newly failing heart. And as much as I dreaded getting it, the specialized device I have implanted in my chest that keeps my heart beating wasn’t even available ten years ago.
Despite my lifelong aversion to change, I’ve learned that change can actually bring joy. But perhaps more importantly, change prepares us for what’s next. Our children growing up in our home prepared them for the rest of their life. And as much as I don’t want to acknowledge it, hopefully they’ll spend many more years outside of our home than in it. Even before that, while they were being formed in the womb, changes were taking place that would only be useful after they were born: nose, eyes, fingers, etc.
Likewise, changes here prepare us for the next phase of our existence: the forever part. As difficult and as scary as it can be at times, this life uniquely prepares us for the next. Nothing is wasted, not one painful change. God knows the end game and is shaping us for our role in eternity. Along the way, joy can be found in the change, and that change will ultimately bring us the eternal joy we’ve been seeking all along.