My heart is always reconfiguring its approach to life. There have been times when my heart felt raw and exposed. Other times when it seemed cased in wax like a Babybell cheese — afraid to let anything near. There have been seasons of callousness, when my heart got so used to doing the same work over and over again that it became tough. My heart has felt fragile as stained glass in an old empty church, and then been so full that I thought it might burst. But through all of these phases, I’ve never been without a heart. My heart continues to beat no matter what condition it is in. Some days anxiety and fear send it beating in double time. Apathy and lethargy can slow its rate to a crawl. But it keeps on beating. Whether I’m wading through chaos or bracing myself for despondency, it’s an anchor. It’s something to count on.
And so it is with joy. Some days are beautiful. Some moments are bursting with joy. Laying on the stone steps of the Jefferson Memorial looking out over the tidal basin. Skiing in perfect snow with friends who make me feel whole. Waiting in the dark for the power to turn back on, drinking whiskey with my housemates and laughing until tears roll down our faces. Being surprised on my birthday with yellow roses and homemade cards. Christmas Eve hot tub conversations with my family as snowflakes meet steam. These are those moments where joy feels tangible and undeniable.
Other moments are unremarkable and feel flat. Or worse, moments that leave us feeling pain and fear. There is no escape from these moments. At least not yet.
Jesus’ birth story is lauded as one of those groundbreaking joy-filled moments. Joy to the World. But after his birth, I’m sure he cried and kept his parents up all night. Maybe breastfeeding gave Mary trouble. Maybe Joseph struggled to figure out his role as a father. We know that at one point, Jesus’ parents forgot him in Jerusalem and didn’t notice his absence for a whole day. Then it took a few more days to track him down. Those moments don’t scream tidings of comfort and joy.
But Mary had stored joy and peace in her heart and she revisited that joy often (Luke 2:19). So when she sat in bed at night unable to sleep (because the world is insane and everyone’s anxiety is 10xs worse at night), Mary called on the joy she counted on like a heartbeat.
I always need a joy that is as consistent as my heartbeat too. A joy that keeps blood coursing through my veins even when I feel numb or crushed. A joy that sustains me until the clouds break and the sun warms me again. Gratitude and perspective help me tap into this consistent joy. Intentionally noticing small, good details in my day can reconnect me with my joy.
Snow is beautiful. I love laughing on the phone with my mom and dad. Nothing smells better than fresh, glossy espresso beans. Where would I be without forgiveness? There are amazing people in my life. I see restoration in my heart and I can’t wait to catch the next glimpse of redemption in my day. Like Mary, I’m storing these joys in my heart so I can tap into their strength anytime I need to.
It isn’t very Christmas-y, but this song by NO NO NO reminds me that I’m alive, my heart is pumping blood, and there is joy all around if I remember to look.