Yesterday I had some time to be alone, without distractions. As I walked a newly discovered hiking path, just 10 minutes from my house (this thought alone gives me great happiness!), a picture of open hands came to my mind. I think a key to joy, no matter the circumstances, is walking with our hands open to embrace who we are rather than holding on, with a death grip, to what we think we should be. I am learning that joy comes when I live from a place of authenticity. To be authentic is to be “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” (source)
So if it’s not that, then what is it? Is it having the perfect two-parent house where the father comes home each night at 5:00 and everyone sits down to a beautifully home cooked meal? Is it the kids eating every bite of grain-fed, organic food on their plate without complaining? Is joy found when I have the perfect body, wear the right clothes, and have all the “right” friends? To be completely honest with you, two years ago this is exactly what I was striving for and while I looked like I had it all together on the outside, I was dead inside. I felt disconnected and exhausted from always striving for what I thought was perfection and instead of bringing me the happiness and joy I so desperately wanted, it left me feeling empty and hopeless.
The constant comparison and striving was robbing me of joy and belonging. These past two years have been filled with a lot of work on my part to let go of who I think I’m supposed to be or what I think will bring me happiness and embracing who God created me to be. Brené Brown is a shame researcher who's writings about living authentically have helped me understand what it means to live authentically and wholeheartedly. I have a quote from her next to my bathroom sink. The part that gets me every morning is, “Choosing authenticity means…nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are.”
So here I am two years later and life looks nothing like the perfect little life I imagined. I am a single mom who works rather than staying home with her kids. Some nights there are battles at the dinner table over eating just one bite of the somewhat healthy dinner I’ve scraped together wondering if I should have just given into their pleas to eat burritos and mac and cheese...again! There are days when I work out and there are days when I don't. I never get 8 hours of sleep. I don't always get it right with my kids and sometimes I am so frustrated with them that I just want to scream and cry! Sometimes I do!
Here is the amazing thing; I’m experiencing joy. Sometimes I look around and wonder how I could feel this happiness deep down inside of me when life is so hard. It doesn’t mean that I have days where tears of close to the surface but maybe its in living and experiencing all of our emotions, the good, the bad, and the hard that we find joy.
Here is the other thing I’m learning. Living with joy just doesn’t happen. Living authentically and with joy takes being intentional and purposeful. Most days joy dances in my heart but honestly, there are also days when it feels far away. When joy is just beyond my reach I am learning to stop and ask myself:
- What is it that am I striving for that is robbing me of joy?
- What expectations am I putting on myself or on my family that are robbing us of being who we truly are?
- How will I let go of these expectations and embrace the truth of who I am?
These questions help me open my hands up from the death grip of control I find myself wanting to cling to. They bring me back to a place where I can let go of the expectations and just be the woman God created me to me, no matter the circumstance. And for me, this is the place I find joy.
What is your story? This is mine, but I’d love to hear yours. Where does your joy come from, even in the midst of difficult circumstances? How do you let go of expectations and embrace who God created you to be? Feel free to share your story in the comments below or send me an e-mail.