by Emily Conrad
Back when I was in college, my boyfriend and I broke up. With some issues to work through from that and some other painful experiences, I saw a counselor for a while. My boyfriend and I got back together after about a week or two, but I confessed to my counselor that I didn’t feel as happy as I ought to about the reunion.
She suggested the problem was that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was living in expectation of disappointment.
Incidentally, though there were of course bumps in the road, that disappointment never came. I’ve now been married to that boyfriend for thirteen years and counting.
And yet, my expectation of disappointment in many areas of my life carries on.
I think of those who are joyful as brave and secure. I envy them. I want to be like them.
But envy doesn’t make me more apt to invite joy in.
Instead, I hesitate to celebrate certain milestones. Instead of rejoicing that I got this or that contract or this or that opportunity or even this or that compliment, I find myself leery, asking, “How will this go wrong? How does this offer false hope?”
But even as I ask these questions, I wonder why I can’t just be happy about good events. Why not celebrate while I can?
When I read a Brene Brown quote that listed joy among the experiences that make us most vulnerable, I paused.
She’d nailed it. In one little quote, she’d pegged why I resist joy.
If I let my spirits lift, they have further to crash with disappointment. It’s like tossing my soft heart skyward in hopes of it growing wings when I know a fall is so much more likely.
Or is it?
I take inventory of disappointments and hurt: grandparents dying; a break up; my dad losing his job while I was in high school; losing my own job because of a business going under; other jobs with toxic environments; rejections in friendships; harsh criticism of my writing.
Before the list gets further than that, another list distracts me, and I find myself taking inventory of blessings.
The cloudy day has broken to let yellow sunshine into my dining room. I sit here at a table that’s less than a year old, both of my dogs quietly snoozing nearby. A beautiful vase punctuated by a cloud of yellow daffodils sits in the center of the table. The floor where my bare feet rest might be sprinkled with dog hair and dust, but it’s newly refinished hardwood. I’m typing on a new laptop, my bills are paid, my husband has a reliable job, and my family lives just minutes away. Outside, flowers are blooming (these daffodils are a mix from my yard and my mom’s). And even the fact that our windows don’t seal right is a blessing; all the better to hear the songs of the birds who’ve returned from wintering elsewhere. And this doesn’t even touch on the spiritual blessings.
Even without half of the things in that list—even if all you or I have is Jesus—the truth would remain the same: we have been blessed much more than we’ve suffered. We have flourished in more ways than disappointment has been able to wither. More than that, no matter what the future holds, the eternity of each and every believer is absolutely secure.
When we rest in that security, the vulnerability of joy is worth the risk.
We wouldn’t stay in on a sunny day for fear of getting caught in a thunderstorm, and we shouldn’t refrain from joy in blessings for fear of disappointment.
God is good. We can trust Him. Even in those times when pain is part of His plan, His plan is good. As the Bible encourages us to, can rejoice even in suffering.
Clinging to this, may joy become our default mode and our favorite vulnerability.
PS – You can read the post where I saw the quote over on The Writer’s Alley, a blog for novelists that I follow! If you’re a writer, too, it’s worth checking out!