Apparently, I smile a lot.
Not that this is a bad thing. My students, back when I was a classroom theology teacher, used to tell me that I smiled all the time. While I certainly didn't feel this way, they insisted that they could not imagine me getting angry because I just seemed so happy all the time. I would tell them with a wry smile that they should talk to my children because they definitely knew that I get angry at times! But it is with a bit of wistfulness that I do remember feeling a general sense of happiness and a more-or-less pervasive positivity in the not-too-distant past.
Sadly, it's been awhile since I have felt that way.
I think there are many reasons for this. I have traversed some unexpected personal and emotional terrain during the past couple of years that have taken my soul by surprise. The trek through this tundra, although necessary and meaningful, has been arduous, painful at times, and wearing on my spirit. Additionally, I think the nearly continuous news streams of distressing societal events has similarly taken a toll on my spirit. There have definitely been moments when I've been near despair and have had difficulty hanging onto a thread of hope, despite being a person of deep faith. I also think that, if I'm honest with myself, I've fallen into one of the traps of being a "good person," which is to lose sight of the very good that I'm hoping to embody. Elizabeth Gilbert, in an interview with Krista Tippett from The On Being Project, shared, "And you know, you have to be careful about this, especially when you have an impulse to be a good person — a “good person,” and your definition of a good person is somebody who gives everything to others. It's a beautiful impulse, but if it's done from a place of only giving darkness and suffering your attention, then you become somebody who's very difficult to be around. [laughs] There's a lovely line that this British columnist said, one time, that “You can always tell people who live for others by the anguished expressions on the faces of the others. [laughs]”
This is not what I want for myself.
So, with the awareness that I am experiencing a disconnect between the person that I hope to be (and perhaps even the person that I project to others) and the person that I perceive myself to actually be, I have decided to pray during these summer months for the gift of joy. Ironically, it's with a little internal chuckle that I acknowledge that this is not the first time that I've prayed for joy. I distinctly remember starting a journal at the 2015 New Year with the first page boldly reminding myself to, "Choose Joy!" Then, only a year and a half later, as I turned 40 years old, I found myself purchasing a daily reminder in the form of a bracelet that says, "LIVE joyfully." I still wear that bracelet almost every day. Clearly, living joyfully has not been my natural impulse for a number of years!
But I read something recently that might just become a game-changer for me. I have begun to experience unexpected joy from reading about...
wait for it...
"Huh," you might be thinking?
I mean, yes, yes, of course the incarnation (God becoming human!) is a reason for joy. Yes, certainly this is true. But is it really a practical, game-changing experience for someone's real, everyday life? Surprisingly, I think that it is!
I have been reading Ronald Rolheiser's classic book on spirituality, The Holy Longing, and my entire perspective on prayer has shifted... and it's all because of the incarnation. Here's what Rolheiser writes,
"When we pray 'through Christ' we are praying through the Body of Christ, which then includes Jesus, the Eucharist, and the body of believers (ourselves) here on Earth. We are praying through all of these. Thus, not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer."
This is a game-changer.
While I have long believed that God desires our action in the world as co-creators of the Kingdom of God, I now have a clearer sense as to why this is so. It's because we are part of the Body of Christ. We are implicating ourselves towards action whenever we pray.
I've taken this to heart. I've realized that if I'm going to pray for joy that, more than simply "choosing" joy, that I must "work" for joy! As a result, I've downloaded a couple of apps on my phone... apps with titles like, "Corny Jokes" and "Dad Jokes," to strengthen my punny muscles. I've finally started paying attention to the wisdom of my very funny husband who loves to listen to comedians... and is our raising our children to love comedians too! Life definitely becomes lighter when one takes time to laugh! Finally, I'm training my eye to look for delight! I find it easier in the summer to be delighted... in a colorful community garden, in spotting a beautiful mural on the side of a building, or in discovering wild blackberries along a favorite hiking trail... but I also know that the dreary days of February will return. So, as best I'm able, I'm taking little snapshots of these moments of delight. While I hope that my delight-sight will be sufficiently strengthened after a summer of joy-workouts, I also take comfort in knowing that if I need a little vision boost mid-winter or when times get rough, that I'll have some images to which I can return.
What a game-changer.
God is with us. God is with us in our every day, as we pray our every prayer, and as we work towards answering those prayers as part of the Body of Christ.
What a reason for joy.
 Source: https://onbeing.org/programs/elizabeth-gilbert-choosing-curiosity-over-fear-may2018/
 Rolheiser, Ronald. The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. New York: Image, 1998.
Questions for Reflection
What brings you joy?
What are strategies you can try to be joyful?
Reflect on the idea of the incarnation. Where do you see the presence of Christ embodied in creation
Laura Gilmartin Hancock is delighted to be a campus minister at Messmer High School. She takes joy in companioning young people on their journeys of faith, service, and leadership. She is married to her husband, Erik, who has made her laugh for more than 25 years and is mom to two very punny kids.