BECAUSE JOY IS STRENGTH

Photo Courtesy of Jaime Smith
Photo Courtesy of J. Smith

A tea party, sunshine, butterflies, sun hats, laughter, and lawn games.  A lovely afternoon to welcome spring and celebrate the conclusion of our current book study, “When the Heart Waits”, by Sue Monk Kidd.

This book is a wonderful exploration of how we are intentionally led into seasons of waiting.  And if we can have the perseverance to intentionally engage in the struggle and uncertainty of those seasons, we will discover the sacred gift of transformation.  All too often we try to push through these cross roads of life by resigning to endure the season with our eyes and fists shut tight, hoping that it passes quickly.  Or we mask the difficulty of these seasons with busyness and empty pleasures.

However, letting ourselves feel and experience the pain and the disappointment and the longing of these seasons is where we discover the fertile seedbed that enables us to thrive and grow towards what’s next.  It is where we find the brokenness within ourselves that needs healing, and strength we did not realize we have.  And where we transition from who we were to who we are becoming.

Sue Monk Kidd uses the analogy of a butterfly throughout her book to highlight the process of this sort of transformation.  Claiming the hope and the promise of what is to come as we enter times of darkness and unknowing.

Photo courtesy of C. Kessler
Photo courtesy of C. Kessler

First we cocoon as caterpillars, accepting the darkness that surrounds us as a sacred place of rebirth.  It is there that we begin the process of metamorphosis.  Letting the old parts of our self die away so that new parts can form.  Giving up the false selves that seemingly served us for a time and evolving into our true selves.  The process can feel painful and isolating and dark.  But it is worth it.  Because when we choose to enter the work of soul-making we emerge from the darkness as a butterfly.  A new creation that holds the heart of our former self – the beauty of who we were created to be – but with glorious new wings to soar into what’s next.

Sue Monk Kidd writes about beginning this process at forty in the midst of the proverbial mid-life crisis.  The halfway point in life where one can become overwhelmed by

  • Sadness over dreams that are unrealized.
  • Disappointment of unwanted, unexpected, or undeserved trials that have become one’s reality.
  • Discouragement over the ways one’s path has been dictated by definitions and expectations from outside sources.
  • Deep longing for who one still wants to become but feels helpless to be.

When our Monday night bible study group first started reading and discussing this book I was concerned that the insights of the book would be far more relevant to me at forty-two, than the twenty-something ladies who attend the study.  However the quarter-life crisis, a season of…

  • Tumultuous transition
  • Fear and discomfort of all the unknowns
  • Difficult assimilation of dreams and reality

…is as real as the mid-life crisis.  And we related deeply on so many of the author’s insights.  I will cherish and ponder the sweet conversations from this study for years to come.

In the final chapter, Sue Monk Kidd offers an insight that resonates deep within me.  Through her season of mid-life crisis and waiting to be made new for what is next, she rediscovered the significance of joy.  For so many grown-ups this is an untapped resource that God freely gives to strengthen and revitalize us along the way as we journey towards maturity.  And if we are seeking to be made to be like Christ, then this journey does not end this side of heaven.  We do not just enter the process of metamorphosis once.  There will always be another season of darkness and cocooning, as well as seasons of growth and rebirth, throughout our lives.

BUT GOD.  He gives us the gift of abundant joy and sweet delight to strengthen us regardless of what season we are in.  We just have to be willing to stop every now and then to receive it.  To immerse ourselves in joy and delight, and be fully present in that moment.  To intentionally choose to take a break from focusing our thoughts and prayers and efforts on the things that worry and concern us and disappoint us.  To be fully present in the the things that fill us up.  The things that nurture and restore our soul.

We are created to be strengthened by joy, not just by work and rest.  God spoke this truth to His people in the Old Testament through His prophet Nehemiah:

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  This day is sacred to our Lord, Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10).

Photo courtesy of C. Kessler
Photo courtesy of C. Kessler

I want to be an older woman who has been made wise by prayer and experience.  But I also want to be an older woman who laughs, and wears a sun hat, and plays lawn games with bare feet so that I can feel the grass between my toes.  Because God and joy and strength are found in all that life has to offer, and I don’t have to give up delight to embrace maturity.

Photo courtesy of C. Kessler
Photo courtesy of C. Kessler

“Delight can become a way of life, a way of journeying.  There’s a saying, ‘Religion is not to be believed, but danced.’  I like this idea, for it shifts the emphasis from our endless pursuit of religious knowledge back to the dimension of living our religion in such a way that it becomes a dance, a celebration in which we open our arms and say yes to life.  At times I’ve interrupted my spiritual journey by lingering in a corner of the dance floor watching others dance or by studying the movements of the dance in a book.  The point of the spiritual life is that you dance the music God pipes in you.” – Sue Monk Kidd

Sunshine, love, friendship, laughter, and shared food.  Gifts from this life offered to us to fill and equip us for every purpose we are called to, and every challenge we encounter.  Experiencing true joy and delight is never frivolous.  It is one of the deepest wells God created where we are invited to come and draw strength.

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