In the checkout line of a small local store, I had a few moments to observe the people around me— especially the man behind the counter. He was careful and attentive to the task before him and though it was only mid-morning, he wore an expression of exhaustion known well by anyone whose ever worked a retail job during the holiday season.
It’s not for the faint of heart I tell ya!
Exchanging pleasantries, I complimented him on how neat and orderly everything was in spite of the obvious chaos this time of the year usually brings. “Thanks,” he sighed “It’s almost over.” I felt his pain but I wanted to leave him with something more. I tried to encourage him to fight the urge of pushing to get through or else possibly, like in many of my previous holiday seasons, he might get to the other side only to discover he’d missed it all… he might miss Jesus, again. His face relaxed into an easy smile and agreeing, he thanked me for that reminder. “I really needed to hear that today.” He said.
I did too.
I need to be reminded again and again that the whole point of the holiday experience… of daily living, is not simple basic survival. Of course, there are seasons, sorrows and situations… those moments when this survival mode of operation takes over for a time but it’s so necessary to refuse to stay there— refusing to push or be pushed through life lest we miss the moments and lose ourselves and our joy in the process.
My dearest friend and I shared this recently because it’s exactly what God has been showing her as well. She told me that this season, God was directing her to be intentional about “protecting her joy”. (She writes about it HERE)
Yes. So rational. So reasonable, loving and kind. She put words to what I’ve been feeling— this need to ferociously protect and guard my joy— every day— not so I can hoard and hold it close, but so I have more to really give away. All I can say is that it worked— but it didn’t happen easily.
You know, in some places right now, floodwaters are rising. Today I watched a video showing an entire house being lifted off it’s foundations and carried away downstream. It’s a terrible reality people are facing at this very moment. Spiritually, it’s one I fight every day. The holidays only make it worse. And while those poor homeowners could do nothing to keep the volume and force of that water from destroying their house, I recognize I need to do whatever I can to keep the volume and forceful dictates of the world from moving me off my foundations. Guarding my joy I must refuse to push through or be pushed along by an unnatural holiday ferver fueled by this stuff-driven culture.
Because we all know it’s there. We feel it— that unseen force that wants to drive us along it’s track. I saw it today— in another store where, deeply-discounted Holiday items were lined up row after row and now, just one aisle over, the Valentine candy, cards and stuffed animals had taken up residence. Closer to the checkouts, exercise clothing, work out programs and equipment now replaced the space recently held by the exotic recipe ingredients and heavy foodstuffs. Are we this blind?!? Once upon a time, maybe I was. Just allowing myself to be pushed here and there, feeling completely driven inside and out by this horrible, crazy, guilt-laden “just get through it” mentality until there I was… on the other side and feeling like I had missed the point again.
Because mostly…I had.
Now I’m refusing.
I can’t undo what’s been done but I can refuse to be further undone by it all.
I can look at the calendar, the clock, the computer and potential commitments— look hard at this consumer and capital-driven culture and say, “You’re not the boss of me!” I can do this and really, for the sake of my sanity and Gospel witness, I must.
What good can be done if during the holidays or the anydays I’m just as culture driven and frazzled as everyone else? How can I really see others if I’m just another cog in the same machine churning out day after day and intent on marketing the next thing to be possessed or celebrated from the ever-widening shallows?
I can’t. I won’t.
That machine is not the boss of me.
At least… that’s what I want.
Guarding my joy is the ultimate act of worship before a God who has commanded us to love Him above all and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the ability to open wider into the space needed to love God and our neighbors well because we’ve learned how to love ourselves well.
It’s not about self-help and happiness— it’s self-care in full view of what God cares about most: holiness, which ultimately leads us to care about the things He does. Blocking out the noise and chaos so we can hear and see what He’s doing all around us and understand how He’s inviting us to join Him.
This isn’t a new idea of course. I don’t expect I’ll be changing the world with this radical act of revolution against the status quo. I am praying for revival however, and maybe it can begin with me where it matters most: my heart, my marriage, family, friends and neighbors. Maybe this way I can joy-FULLY be that small spark of God’s light in my community and eventually on the wider mission field if this is His will, simply because I know who is the boss of me: God. And He is… so good….. to me.