My friend posted a beautiful picture of her daughter jumping at the water’s edge on a sandy beach with the caption, “Because she’s happy!” It made me think about my own children at the beach. They jump, shriek, dance, and roll in the water and sand for no other reason than pure joy. It’s a beautiful thing, with inhibitions lost in the moment of expressing unadulterated happiness.
Her photo made my soul smile, but the more I thought about it, it made me a little sad, too. My sadness wasn’t for my friend or her daughter, but for my children and me. My friend’s daughter has Down Syndrome and, while I am no expert on the matter, every person I have ever met with Down’s has never lost their ability to express their contagious child-like joy. My kids, on the other hand, most likely will, because somewhere on this journey through life I’ve lost mine.
It’s not that I am not joyful, but somewhere I picked up and applied a joy filter to my life. I think many of you can relate. It tends to happen when we become cognizant of others and how they will perceive us, of how they will judge. We begin forfeiting the opportunity to fully embrace our joy, because we stifle the actions that our bodies yearn to express.
2 Samuel chapter 6 tells the story of King David and the return of the Ark of the Lord to its people. King David is beyond excited for its return; he has wanted it for so long and has experienced a previous failed attempt, but now it is actually happening! His joy could not be contained; his heart was full and his body leapt and danced in elation for God’s goodness.
In my mind I feel like that is what happens in a child’s heart when they experience God in nature. Even if they can’t articulate what is happening within themselves, our Creator has impressed them with His awe and beauty. Unaware, they are celebrating Him. With their whole bodies, every shriek, every jump, every roll on the sandy beach is their involuntary joyous praise to the Lord. It is like they have lost control to the One who controls it all, because kids don’t care if you think they are being foolish. At that moment, in that excitement, you are not even on their radar.
Michal, David’s wife, wasn’t on his radar either, but she was embarrassed by the behavior he exhibited in front of the kingdom and she tried to give him the what for. David, however, told Michal that his actions weren’t about her; they weren’t even about him. They were about the Lord. Her disdain over his praise didn’t make him flinch. As a matter of fact, he said he would become even more undignified, would risk humiliation, to be joyful before the Lord. He continued to tell her that those who witnessed his exultation of the Lord, unlike her, would find him dignified.
Moms, I have had a problem for years with trying to appear dignified to other people. Anybody with me? I have stifled feelings of joy. I have added joy filter after joy filter on my life to not appear foolish in the eyes of others. My body has wanted to dance, but I won’t let it. I have wanted to shout for joy, but I bite my tongue. I have wanted to jump waves, but I tell myself I will look like a fool. I have missed out on so much joy for no other reason but what I thought the Michals of the world would think of me.
Do you know what’s is the worst part of this, ladies? My teens now have joy filters. This is one of the reasons I chose to homeschool them: I didn’t want them to be slaves to the opinions of others. I didn’t want their peers to be their puppet masters. It breaks my heart that my constraints have passively taught my kids to do the same. It was me, not pubescent teenagers. My need for acceptance and my fear of embarrassment said, “Get yourself a joy filter,” without me audibly saying a word.
At the age of 37, I am finally figuring out that God’s opinion of me is the only one that matters. I’ve said it a hundred times, but it was just lip service; I haven’t ever truly lived it. It’s hard to be a people pleaser for so long and then to live only for God. I am constantly reminding myself, dialoguing in my head–constantly dialoguing–that the Michals of this world don’t matter. Trying not to be suffocated by how I think others will perceive me; reminding myself that if I am joyful, my children will find me dignified.
I want unfiltered joy so badly. Now here I am, ready to be jubilant before Him; desiring to have the joy of a child at the water’s edge. I’m ready to live life the way it was intended, wholeheartedly and unbound. I’m hoping I can do this, but I’m afraid to be vulnerable and take this risk. It’s a process that’s going to take lots of prayer; post-it notes on my bathroom mirror reminding me; blinders to block distractions; pep talks to myself; deep breaths; and diving in. My hope is one day my behavior will have others questioning my exuberant bliss and that the explanation will be simple. Because she’s happy.