The Burden of Joy

This morning I cooked breakfast for eight people. This morning I taught math. I taught geography. I taught keyboarding (typing?). I changed two dirty diapers. I fixed a broken cabinet. I dressed two human beings (three if you can’t me). I prepared a roast, potatoes and carrots for dinner. I worked on a worship service for Sunday. I loaded six children into a van and attempted to run errands. I tried to be kind and deliver to my wife a drink from Sonic (she is at work). We got the drink there, but I spent most of my time at her office settling a dispute between two brothers/best friends/worst enemies. At that point the clock rolled past 12 and my afternoon began.

I don’t say all that to brag. Or to complain. It is simply the facts. As a father of six, a home school teacher, a husband, and a minister, this is what life looks like, almost every day. Because of everything listed above, there are lots of things I do not do. I am constantly asked, “Have you seen that movie?” No. Read that article I sent you? Not yet. Did you watch the President’s speech? Uh, no. Caught the latest episode of _________? No, I have not seen the latest episode of any TV show in years. Can we get together? Maybe, but it is going to be tough.

All of this makes it very easy to view my life in terms of burdens. There are all the things I have to do. All the things people need me to do. All the responsibilities. And there are all the things I miss out on. All the fun or people or meaningful moments I can’t fit into my life. You could say that all of this is a burden or series of burdens. But I have been at this awhile now. And none of these are the primary burden I carry. The thing that is most difficult is not all I have to do, all the responsibilities I have, or even all the things I cannot do. The primary burden in my life now is joy. Yes joy.

Rarely do my responsibilities overwhelm me. Seldom do I look around and think, “I’m not sure I can do this?” But sometimes I look inside myself and notice that I am doing it all, but without much joy. The deep satisfaction that should be there is missing. And I know it is missing because it is often there. And then I feel guilty. I feel like I should be joyful, but am not, so what is wrong with me? And suddenly the need to be joyous feels like a burden.

When I reach that place where calling becomes drudgery, and joy seems absent; I have to remind myself of three important ideas.

1. Joy is not a feeling. It is a state. It is a place we reside when our internal self is no longer controlled by what happens on the outside of us. I can be filled with joy even as the day I had planned crumbles around me. Doing mundane tasks doesn’t have to rob my joy because the mundane tasks I must do are a part of the greater purpose to which I am called. I am ultimately free, forgiven, loved, and accepted no matter how responsible I am today.

2. Remember the calling. So often tasks become disconnected from the true purposes of our lives. When they do, the tasks quickly become drudgery. We find ourselves doing what needs to be done, but we have forgotten the why. It is so important to consistently remind ourselves of why we are doing what we are doing. The summer after I graduated high school I worked at a grocery store. I stocked groceries from 10pm to 7am. I was tired, I couldn’t sleep well during the day, and every night it seemed I missed out on something my friends were doing. So as I would put bleach and dog food on the shelf at 4am, I would remind myself of how many days until I left for college. The money I was making would help me get to school, have a good time and meet some girls. Suddenly, it seemed worth it.

3. Be aware of the quick fix. Nothing will rob you of joy more quickly than removing the burden. Now, that may seem counterintuitive. Wouldn’t things be easier if you just let someone else do this stuff? But we are not talking about changing the oil in your car. We are talking about a calling. Ultimate purpose. Burdens that give us meaning. It is their weight, their difficulty that makes them joyful. Too often we have said that hard work gives you meaning. No, hard work that is connected to purpose and calling gives you meaning. Too many people work hard for things they want and are disappointed with the results. But I am never disappointed when I work hard to fulfill God’s calling and purpose for me.

So my joy is tied to the things I must do.  And that’s okay because rather than being snuffed by responsibility, my joy is renewed by it.  I just wish that sometimes my joy could speed things up a bit (It took me several days to write a post about what happened this morning!)  But even the slowness of putting this post together gives me some joy.  Because the things that slowed me down, the people that got in the way, those are the things that truly matter.

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