Originally, I wanted to call this post “Make Room for Joy,” but that doesn’t feel right. There’s nothing wrong with the word “joy,” but it can feel disingenuous or unobtainable at times. Given all the things this year has thrown at us, I think our first step is to know when to refocus. Or, maybe we need to realize we’re out of focus to begin with.
Living out of focus
My children will never comprehend the anxious feeling of waiting for real film photos. Do you remember charging the flash, snapping the photo, winding the wheel to advance the film, and then waiting? Automatic flash wasn’t a thing when I was little. Shots were limited to the number left on the roll—24, 23, 22… Filters, editing, and reviewing weren’t options. Point, click, and wait.
Nevertheless, we’d snap photos with confidence and wait to confirm their greatness.
Open up my old photo albums and you’ll see life through the lens of shaky 9-year-old hands. Half of one person’s head might be missing while another person is zoomed in way too close. Idyllic landscapes instead are depicted as one big blur.
This year, I’m afraid our lives resemble those blurry old photos. It doesn’t matter if we have a much too long to-do list or a mind so cluttered we can’t remember which day it is. We’re just surviving and joy doesn’t stand a chance.
Whatever is closest, most urgent, or making the most noise has our attention. We’re living out of focus.
Seeing life clearly and still rejoicing
It’s not that we’re trying to be ungrateful or impatient. We just want a break. Can the kids safely go back to school so I can get a couple hours alone during the day? Will the news ever go back to the way it was before we all decided everyone was wrong about everything? What is our goal again?
“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father…he went down into Egypt [and left his home]…and there he became a nation [because God used the ill intentions of others for good]…And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. [because they were afraid and jealous of the Hebrews] Then we cried to the Lord…And the Lord brought us out of Egypt [but it took them 40 years to get here because they’re hardheaded and doubt God frequently]…And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ [the same ground they saw 38 years ago but were too afraid to take] And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you.” Deuteronomy 26:5-11 (with emphasis and writer’s commentary added)
Clarity in your right now life
Maybe a 2020 version sounds like this:
We live in a land of freedom and comfort. Sometimes we take our safety and prosperity for granted because we have all that we need and most of what we want. This year has been marked by a sickness we cannot contain. There have been floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. There is unrest among our people. Decency and grace have disappeared. Everything feels hard and contentious.
But, God is still here if we choose to see him. God is here when we open our doors and homes and hearts. God is the only one who can heal this nation. Forget about our bodies and bank accounts, start with our hearts. We need to rejoice in all God is doing right now.
Know when to refocus
This year might be the hardest year of your life. Do not lose yourself.
I remember the weeks after my dad’s accident. I was going back and forth between the hospital and home. The wheat harvest needed to be finished and my dad needed to heal. I was barely eating or sleeping—mostly driving, working, and trying to keep all the plates spinning. In the midst of it all, I was drowning under all that needed to be done.
When you’re lost in the blur of life, it’s hard to know when to refocus. I needed my husband to step in. Maybe you need a friend who will be honest and help you see what you’re missing.
Refocusing doesn’t take away the hard parts of life. We will still face struggles, but they will have less power. You may still be out of work, but friends show up the way you need. A new mindset doesn’t replace family members who passed away, but we can remember them well. We can face joy and pain simultaneously because our joy is not dependent on our circumstances.
Refocus on how where you want to be. What’s on your mind most frequently? Are you curating joy in your life? What steals your joy?
2020 is not a lost cause. Neither of us wants to look back and regret wasting time on things we couldn’t change.