I love watching the shifting of seasons at the lake in my hometown.
In the summer I have to wind my way around runners and bikers and happy children on scooters. The dark blue of the lake shimmers against the vibrant greens of the grass and trees. On milder winter days, I bundle up and brave the wind to watch the geese paddle around in the unfrozen part of the water, the sky that icy blue that means there’s no snow for awhile.
In every season when I visit the lake, there’s a tree that catches my eye. It is set a ways off the trail, its branches more slim than others as they reach up toward the sun. For the longest time last spring, this little tree remained budless and leafless while the rest of the foliage burst into bloom. The tree remained barren. And that’s how my heart felt in that season too.
Sometimes we can feel the emptiness after something we’ve looked forward to has ended. The sadness can rush in when we say goodbye to loved ones after a visit, a good book has ended, or a ministry is done. In this time of social distancing, lockdown, and global pandemic, having something to look forward to can be especially poignant.
I hope the Velvet Ashes retreat was one of those things that brought you joy and peace and comfort. But now, for those of us who have completed it already, the happiness of the weekend might feel temporary and the ache might feel permanent.
So how do we pursue joy in the barren seasons as well as the vibrant, full ones? When our life feels like that tree that is waiting to bud, how do we seek joy in meaningful ways?
Spoilers: I don’t honestly have the answer. I’m not a naturally joyful person, and pursuing meaningful joy is really, really hard for me. But these are the things I hold tight to and remind myself of on the daily.
Pursue gratefulness. I have to keep an actual pen-and-paper list or I miss them. Every morning once I’ve made my coffee and before I crack open my Bible, I pull out a little notebook. I smile as I think about something that happened the previous day, simple gifts or the way something worked out or even just how amazing my Penang curry was for supper. I’m not just naturally grateful, but when I make it a practice I am more open to seeing how the Father cares so well for me, and this creates space in my heart for joy.
Pursue loveliness. When I first moved overseas, my teammate and I took a very sterile approach to our home furnishings. While there’s nothing wrong with minimalism, my heart craved beauty. If that’s you, get that pretty pillow case you’ve seen in the market. Make the curtains. Buy the flowers. Add those bits of loveliness to your space.
Pursue laughter. There’s nothing like laughter to stir the heart and brighten even the darkest days. It’s hard to laugh when things feel heavy, I get it. I have a few videos saved on my phone of my nieces and nephews that never fail to stretch my lips to a grin. There’s a certain TV show from my childhood that makes me laugh out loud. What things do that for you?
Pursue connection. When everything is happening on the Internet these days, we all might be feeling a bit Zoomed out. I’m not a hugger by any means, but after Facebook Lives and phone calls only for days on end, I just want to see people in person. Connection is important, especially with people that pursue joy too. I have had to unfollow some folks on social media, be selective in my yeses to video chats, all so that I surround myself with others who bring out the joy in me rather than frustration/rants/eye-rolling.
Pursue Love. Find the ways that fit the season for feeding your soul and your relationship with God. Right now I’m reading the Bible through chronologically and the routine has been anchoring my heart in truth. In other seasons I needed gentle rhythms, a worship playlist for dark days, and the Prayer and Stretching video from the 2017 retreat on repeat. It doesn’t have to look the same in every season or in every household, so don’t compare yourself to the you from last year or your sister across town.
The Father so desires to love you and care for your heart. He can give you joy in the barren seasons as well as the delightful ones.
Do you have a picture that comes to mind to describe this season, like the tree waiting to bud? What things are helping you pursue joy right now?