When joy is almost gone

As I open my emails, answer my phone, read my mail, I am reminded that many of us are in a season of suffering, surrounded by layers of worry and sorrow, and it is collecting deep within us. Worry takes on different faces for different people, and it never is just one thing:  the banal worries of money and terra firma responsibilities, things like lay offs and mortgage troubles and cars breaking and houses aging. Or the love of husband/wife, parent/child, friend to friend, feeling the stretch of years and choices and needing to forgive...again. And even just living with ourselves, seeing our choices and wishing that just this once we could be nice or flexible or ready for the challenge. And then the life and death worries hit us when we are already down; they wash every single other worry away...for a time. The middle of the night phone calls, the hurried travel to be at the bedside of a dying father or cousin or friend, the hope that the surgery of a spouse will bring good news after the terror of waiting, the crash of time and eternity when we wonder why everything else bogs us down so badly. We continue to get up, make ends meet, fix meals, love children, kiss husbands, but eventually we are left wondering where the joy went.

One day last week, I reached for whatever perfume was on the bathroom counter. I have three bottles that were my mother's, and I spray a mist of memory out every morning, breathe in Mom's fragrance throughout each day. But the bottle I grabbed was almost empty.  The perfume is called JOY.

What do you do when the joy is almost gone?  As someone who believes in God's purposes, who lives for eternity, who knows there is a bigger story being written behind the troubles, I am still human.  And the joy feels depleted right now.

I am curious where YOU go to find joy in troubled times.  What is your wisdom?  Your inspiration?

I know that seasons come and go, but joy must transcend the circumstances.  Happiness can be married to the now and its feelings, but joy needs to be bigger and broader and more connected to eternity.

Joy is not gone...just stretched.  I hope you'll chime in.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  


The Prude said…
This is achingly, beautifully poignant. I don't know if I would recognize joy if it bopped me in the face, but I know I HAVE it, that I own joy, that it is mine forever.
Maybe that last part makes me handle the grayness. There is no way I am powerful enough to deplete my supply of joy, even though my emotions are muttering 'Blah'.
Justin said…
Thanks for this. In answer to your question...in no particular order:
--the psalms, especially the sad ones
--a walk outdoors
--our dog
--trying to show kindness to someone
Dawn said…
I am gentle with myself in those seasons. I settle in for some quiet (which fills my introvert soul) - a second cup of coffee in my rocker on the porch, a good book while curled up on the couch with a soft blanket... I get outside - to the woods, to the ocean, to the park down the street, to my own back yard... I create - bake a treat, make a card, color a picture... I play with people who make me laugh - a night by the firepit, an afternoon of games, lunch with girlfriends... Mostly, I pray and read scripture - and like Justin said, especially the sad psalms.
Di said…
I knew there would be wisdom in these comments. Anita, you are inspired (again!): "There is no way I am powerful enough to deplete my supply of joy, even though my emotions are muttering 'Blah'."

Justin, I love the inclusion of your dog on the list. I find a lot of solace in the psalms, and I love how so often they lead me from despair to hope.

Silly Doodah, gentleness is a beautiful suggestion. It speaks to the fact that it is not all up to us, is it?

Thanks, all!

Rebeca said…
I try to give thanks... and find that it does help to cultivate joy. But it's a hard discipline at times where everything in me feels empty.
Alison said…
Hi Diane,
In times of struggle, I find nature such a solace. I remember last fall when we were in such struggles with Sam and what would happen with school after the bullying and the fight that lead to a suspension and then our decision to remove him from high school...Add in Eleanor's dishonesty and I just felt so stretched and sad and worried. On a gray/sunny afternoon, I went to the beach and sat on a log, and I promptly fell asleep to the sound of the waves. I woke up 20 minutes later rested and if not filled with joy, I'd had some hope restored.

Did you get the book of essays I sent? I've been reading them, and they are achingly beautiful in how they address nature and sorrow and grief. I hope the book gives you some comfort, too.
Di said…
Rebeca, I like what you say about cultivating gratitude. It is work, isn't it?

And Alison, I have found great solace in that beach! I think the release of sleep is a gift. And I do think that HOPE is a huge part of what I am calling joy. It reminds me that right this moment is not all there is...there is a future to look forward to.

The book is lovely, and the companionship is spoke of means the world to me...even if my thank you notes are late in coming. You are a dear friend.
beth said…
When joy is fleeting, when the days feel heavy and dark, I cry out and weep with dear friends that I know will hold my sadness and heaviness in careful hands and give me a safe place to just be sad for awhile.

I also know they will hug me, pray for me, encourage me to press on, and when I'm ready, make me laugh.

Then I go for a long walk or work in my garden or sit on my porch and drink a cup of tea in the dark with a candle or read Scripture or pray... or all of them. Joy returns - sometimes like a downpour, other times like a mist, and not usually instantly, but always in God's good time.

May your joy be restored and your heart refreshed in the days ahead.
Carol in Oregon said…
Ahh. When I am depleted I sit at the piano and play, sometimes for hours. I get outside and pull weeds, try to frame the beauty of blossoms and fruit.

It is easy for me to become semi-comatose on the couch. And yet, when I get out, and get a vigorous (all things being relative) walk, get some oxygen in my blood, I almost always feel at least the willingness not to wallow.

But there are times, don't you think, when you just have to process the grief, to let grief have its say, a time when tears are truly a release.

And holding a baby. There is much promise in holding a baby.

Your words are wonderful, Di.
Kathie said…
Dear Di,

A very wise friend gave me the same advice as Doodah - be gentle with yourself. That it was ok to be sad. I think when I stopped fighting it so hard, it became a little easier, lighter somehow. The Psalms and praise music were healing as well. Plus many, many friends who prayed for me. As I will pray for you. xxoo
chris said…
hi Di,

i wish i had seen your post before today, but "0th" week at uni is always busier than the others, even tho' there's no teaching.

i'm sorry you feel that recently life has taken a lot of the joy out of you, and i wish i could make that not so!

as Carol in Oregon says, there are times when grief has to "have its say". still, i think that the presence of grief is not the same thing as the absence of joy. for one thing, a person with "flat affect" can have the latter without the former. also, i think joy and grief can be present together--not adjacent to each other, but somehow commingled; and that sort of commingling makes grief bearable.
(btw, doesn't Madeleine L'Engle talk somewhere (the journals?) about the compresence of grief and joy?)

how to hang on to (or replenish) joy? the advice of your other commenters seemed very good to me. at the somatic level, rest, sleep, and exercise help, and i think that real exercise is doubly useful, in that (at least for me) it markedly improves the quality of sleep one gets. gritting one's teeth and trying to push through to joy is unlikely to work as well as being "gentle with oneself". prayer, scripture, music, nature, helping someone in need, friends, babies or pets can all restore joy. i guess what all those things have in common is that they take us out of ourselves--enable us to give ourselves lovingly to someone or something outside us and our suffering. there's a (to my mind, very expressive) line in a sara groves that goes something like, 'everything in me tightening...curling in around this ache'. that sort of 'curling in' kills joy; to the extent we can resist it, and pour ourselves into someone or something outside ourselves, that will bring joy back, even if it doesn't make grief disappear.

in a world in which our loved ones are frighteningly vulnerable, love causes the grief that causes the "curling in" that takes joy away. but love also induces us to uncurl--to open ourselves and give ourselves to our beloved. so in a way, where joy is concerned, love is both the problem and the solution...

praying that, your trials notwithstanding, God will bring you His comfort and His joy...

Kendra Fletcher said…
I'm coming late to the conversation, and admittedly not read all the other comments.

But. The number one stealer of my joy is when I'm hope-shifting. Shifting my hope from the One who blesses to His blessings. What he gives can never satisfy like the One who gives.

Love you-

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