Have you ever been in a really good place in life? Relationships flourishing, home life thriving and your chosen field of work giving you a relative sense of accomplishment? Then all of a sudden a quiet dread settles in the pit of your stomach? It could be prompted by nothing in particular but suddenly you cannot shake the feeling that something horrifying is soon to come? If you relate to this feeling then you have an idea what the bulk of my adult life (post-grad) has felt like. I have had incredibly fulfilling seasons of life but in the back of my mind – even in those moments of deep joy – is a thought/fear that immediately fills me with dread. I do not have words to explain it yet, but the best way I can describe it is this feeling of “I am running out of time/I’m gonna die doing this/I am never gonna make it out.”
It is terrifying and all-consuming. I have not always felt like this but the earliest I can pinpoint the feeling was my time in law school (circa 2004-2007). Over the years, I have tried to push the feeling aside by striving for excellence. When I am achieving and crushing my goals, all is well. But as soon as I start cruising, or things begin to take a downward turn, the feeling returns. “You life is passing you by while you do nothing. You are never gonna reach (insert any goal) like this. Look at everyone your age who has already passed you by.” And just like that my heart will begin racing and the feeling of doom and dread returns. I often felt this as a single woman thinking about my prospects for marriage. But the most pressing area of my life where these thoughts assault me has been my career. Year after year, I would struggle to find my footing and year after year it felt like I had lost more ground while trying desperately to make a living. Another year in the red and the voice gets louder. “Your life is passing you by while you do nothing.” Another year of working without benefits or retirement savings. “You’re never going to be debt-free like this. You’re going to die owing everybody.”
Getting married and having children was an opportunity to pivot away from what was failing and invest in what I knew I could do well. I poured my all into my family, hoping and praying that it would be enough; but every time I had to confront what I wanted to do with my career or how I could help support my family’s finances, the thoughts returned. “You’ve lost too much ground. There are so many people more equipped than you for this field. You are never going to make a living doing this work.” To avoid the dread, I stuffed my career into the furthest corner of my life and focused on what brought me joy. The people I love, my marriage, writing and ministering to others. If you measured me by everything else, excluding my career, I was living the life of my dreams.
I could only live that chopped in half life for so long before I realized that I had to do something to get my joy back. The first step of that process was my husband challenging me to step out of my comfort zone. The second step was taking a job I was terrified to do. The next step after that has been showing up every day to begin crafting a new beginning for myself. I am in the midst of getting back to joy. I wake up each day grateful for an opportunity to earn and add value. When it takes me twelve hours to achieve an eight-hour work day, I applaud myself for sticking with it instead of lamenting my lack of productivity. When I get constructive feedback from my higher ups, I make a note to be grateful for the opportunity to grow instead of beating myself for not being perfect at my job after only one year in a new field. I save $20 every pay period into one account, and save all the cash I have on hand into another account. I opened a retirement savings account and started a rainy-day fund. It may not be a million dollars, but it is better than nothing and the small steps in the right direction encourage me to keep going.
While working from home full-time and watching my children (side bar – I took them out of childcare for the summer in hopes of finding a summer camp but honestly, my children are at their happiest when they are getting ample time with mom and dad), I have come to realize that my workday does not look like anyone else’s. I hope for nine to five but between making meals, fixing snacks, wiping tears and breaking up fights – it can be anything from 10 to 6 or 12 to 8 and on really crazy days, 4 to 12. But here I am getting it done. My children are happy and thriving. My husband and I have time to invest in one another; and I can still give myself to the things that matter to me, like writing and supporting the women I love. I am getting back to joy. I am giving myself permission to have deep, soul-lifting joy that permeates every aspect of my life – rather than limiting my happiness to the things that are going according to plan.
My house is still a wreck more often than not. I clean it as my schedule allows but I have learned to grace myself when dishes pile up and toys are all over the place. It does not always get done immediately. My house looks more like a home with toddlers than a showroom but I have learned to embrace it. I no longer compare myself to my friends with pristine homes and young children. What works for them wouldn’t work for me and vice versa. I’m graced to live this life and no one else’s. Self-care means seeing a therapist every 3-4 weeks, getting my eyebrows waxed and a pedicure every 2-3 weeks, and saying “no” when people ask for favors that give me anxiety.
I am learning to respectfully voice my concerns rather than stuffing my feelings until I explode. I am drawing boundaries between relationships that require everything I have to give and associations that are for the time being or for convenience sake. I am getting back to joy. Prioritizing joy means shifting my work schedule one hour later so my kids can visit their grandparents and have ice-cream. Life is far from perfect, but it does not need to be perfect for me to find the joy in today. After so many years of sacrificing my joy because I was not successful enough, rich enough, married enough (singleness was an adventure), it is an honor to be getting back to joy.
How are you getting back to (or staying in) your own joy?
(Share with me in the comments! I would love to hear from you)
2 thoughts on “Getting Back To Joy”
This is the same struggle for me…and I often have so much I feel is wrong happening at once but I am constantly asking God to rearrange me and help me to see what he does…or the beauty in the moments that look so ugly to me. My walk is hard, exhausting sometimes really painful and I get discouraged that there is no joy for me..but I do believe God and his word so I keep coming back until it fills me up and I can breathe again.
I am so proud of you, Lilly. Honestly. You are walking one of the hardest valleys I have ever known and you have kept going when all signs pointed to “just lay down and die.” I think the beauty of God’s presence is that the “peace that passes all understanding” is literally a peace that makes no sense in light of our present circumstances. And He has promised that to us. We definitely are not supposed to wait until it is all perfect before we are entitled to any portion of joy. There is peace and there is joy available, now and by God’s grace I know that He will cause us to enjoy it even in the seasons when peace and joy do not seem likely. Keep pushing sis. Your rest is coming.