Occasionally, life sneaks up on you. At least, that happens to me. There I am, trudging along distracted by my list of things I want to accomplish, and BAM! I come to an epiphany about an obstacle that has been blocking my forward progress; one which I didn’t even realize I was continuously butting up against.
About two years ago, I read Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly”. It challenged me in a lot of ways-so much so that I find myself rediscovering many things years later. One such thing is in regards to experiencing and stifling joy in our lives. Brown describes the way that young mothers often sneak into their sleeping babe’s bedrooms at night. They gaze at their precious children and feel overwhelmed with all the emotions motherhood can bring. Then, suddenly, they envision something horrible happening to their child. The joy is stifled and fear comes over them. “Something could happen to my child and all I love would be gone” begins to run through the young Mother’s mind when just seconds before, she was standing in a place of overwhelming joy. But now? That joy has been replaced by anxiety and fear of the unknown. The joy is gone.
Brown’s point is that we can easily get stuck in living life with the thought, “when’s the other shoe going to drop” at the forefront of our minds. The problem is that the more we do this, the more we squash our ability to experience joy. If our hearts are hardened against pain, then they are also hardened against joy! The shutting down of one is the shutting down of the other.
That spoke to me. Her challenge was to stop those thoughts in their tracks and go back to the joy. To push those thoughts out and fight for the good. It reminded me of something I heard John Eldredge say many, many years ago when I was a college student. At a seminar for Campus Crusade for Christ, Eldredge told us that Jesus Christ is the only God who will ask us to lean in and remain vulnerable in the midst of pain. Suffering is a key element of Christianity.
And why? Because if we can’t experience pain, we won’t experience joy. Our hearts will be too hard.
In a quiet reading time recently, I came across something along these same lines from Isaiah 6:9b-10. God is speaking to the prophet Isaiah and he says something to him that is so profound, as he is about to send Isaiah out to the people (who are engaged in idol worship) to warn them. He says,
“Listen carefully, but do not understand.
Watch closely, but learn nothing.
Harden the hearts of these people. Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts and turn to me for healing.”
As I prayed and meditated on these verses, I realized that if you switch it to the positive it is
“To turn to the Lord and receive healing, you need a soft heart to understand, listening ears to hear and open eyes to see.” I would even add to that “humility to learn”.
Hardened hearts block our healing.
As Brown explained, when our hearts are shut down to pain, they are also shut down to joy. I love to laugh and have often told my husband in hard times that what I really need is a good sleep and a loud and long laugh. Joy is what makes life beautiful. So isn’t it interesting that a hard heart,a lack of vulnerability, is what steals our joy and shuts down our experience of a joyful life?
Opening ourselves up to pain, to suffering, sounds wrong, costly and counter-intuitive. But what a shocking thing to learn how self protection leads us down the very wrong path in the wrong direction; it shuts down the joy we are offered each day and the path to a life of understanding, eyes to see and ears to hear. The price is high, but the risk of a hard heart and a life without joy isn’t exactly worth that price.