Togetherness on the path to happiness

Society is constantly pursuing happiness and contentment and most of the time coming up short. When these things are our destination, we end up going in completely the wrong direction. Instead, they should be stopping points along the way to something much better.

You’ll have heard it said that happiness is a choice. When you’re really not feeling it, not only does that sound like a lie, it becomes a frustrating mantra from other people whose lives seem to have blessed them immeasurably and so why wouldn’t they be happy. You’ll also have heard it said that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Practicing thankfulness turns our eyes to the green grass under our feet. If nothing else (and there almost always is a lot else we can identify) we have our Creator and we have a purpose for today – to be his Kingdom on earth. That’s it. That’s the purpose.

The ultimate goal is serving others and showing them a glimpse of how generous, loving, creative and selfless our Maker is. In pursuing that, we usually find that contentment and happiness have crept in unnoticed and simply are.

When I was pursuing happiness and failing miserably, I considered myself weak because I needed other people and felt I was a burden to them. Once again my wise husband’s words were balm to my soul: “It’s not weakness it’s togetherness. You have time right now. Rather than dwell on the sad things, enjoy right now.”

So I’m pursuing a life of serving others. Of talking to and listening to God and to dwelling in and appreciating ‘togetherness’.

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Friendship, community and serving

“Friends voluntarily tie their hearts to one another.”

This beautiful quote from Tim Keller’s The Way of Wisdom reminded me just how important it is to invest in the people around me.

One of my goals for this year was to find ways to serve others. That doesn’t mean signing up for a rota or doing a few random good deeds. It means an intentional* shift in the way I think, the way I interact and the way I look around me. It means going out of my way to be there for my friends. It means sacrificing my time if needed so that others come first. It means making it a priority to check in with my friends; to find thoughtful actions or ways to make sure they know they are loved.

And it extends beyond my friends. Serving others is hugely rewarding, even when you don’t know them well. It is a privilege. The number of times in the last few weeks, people have served our new little family and when I’ve tried to express my huge gratitude, they’ve responded: ‘Are you kidding me?! It’s a privilege to be trusted and brought into your family.’

That mindset – that others can get deep and genuine joy from serving others and even consider it an honour, no matter how much of a stranger – still staggers me but I want to cultivate it. By serving others, we are serving the Lord; Jesus said when you serve others, you serve me (Matthew 25:35-40). Serving the Lord is what we were created to do, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it brings us joy!

As a start, I’ll try to check in on my friends more regularly, send more snail mail, try to say ‘yes’ more often and invite people round for a good meal that inspires community. From there, we’ll see how it goes!

Shabbat shalom.

 

*Apologies for the cringe-worthy Christianese but I felt it was appropriate here…

Joy

With a new baby, joy has been something heavily on my mind. It is an expected emotion when a tiny human is born and an anticipated aid to help you get through the difficult early days. But joy was not found in my earliest days with our little one and, alongside exploring what that means in terms of emotional health and wellbeing, I’ve also looked at what that means from a Biblical perspective.

“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14

Having a joyful spirit is imperative when it comes to tackling the ups and downs of life. Without it, everything becomes crushingly overwhelming. I love the phrase Timothy Keller uses in ‘The Way of Wisdom‘ – ‘I need both a mind convinced by solid arguments and an imagination fired with the beauty of your character and story.’ This is how we pursue joy.

Finding time to read my Bible has been neither a priority nor, seemingly, a possibility, with a newborn, but without that spiritual input, my joy has only been lower. On my lowest days, my husband prayed with me often and encouraged me to be thankful for the small (‘baby steps’ if you please…) accomplishments in the day – from physical healing, getting laundry on or simply keeping our baby alive.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

It’s no coincidence that a central part of CBT and other talking therapies is training your mind to see the good in your day and being thankful. It’s right there in Paul’s letter. Recognising the beginning of a descent, catching it and acknowledging good things in the day, is a powerful tool. When I couldn’t see improvement, joy or anything to be thankful for, my discerning, patient husband would gently point out a few things and help me to see them clearly.

Proverbs is filled with acknowledgements that laughter may still have an aching heart and that grief and rejoicing are closely intertwined (14:13) – simple acknowledgements that no life is perfect or void of sadness, loneliness and confusion. Yet despite all of that, there can be joy and peace alongside the difficult emotions, when we remember the character of Yahweh and keep him at the centre through prayer, reading his word and giving thanks.

 

Just living

I am a planner. I set goals. I dedicate time to figuring out what’s next. I look for ways to improve on my faults and maximise on my strengths. I organise, I walk with purpose and I am deliberate in where I want to go.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these traits but this year is a year of ‘wait and see.’ My husband and I have no plans, no set targets. We have things we would like to happen and we are working on but we’re not revolving our lives around those things. We’re not filling our calendar and we’re not constantly looking into the future.

The inevitable result is that we’re far more in the present. We are enjoying the moment, embracing the things that we love and simply seeing what happens.

In a sense, we are letting go. We’re giving our plans up to God and seeing where we end up. I’m still aware of things I want to work on in myself but I’m also excited to see what the next few months hold.

Already I’ve been prompted to focus on creativity, on enjoying the things of this world that simply exist to give us joy and evoke a sense of possibility that is hard to stumble across otherwise. We’ve been steered as a couple into looking at prayer; why, what and how we pray. Right now, those two things are completely monopolising my thoughts and as I mull them over, I begin to see more opportunities to practice what I’m learning.

I miss having a specific purpose that I’m working towards but I have to admit, it is invigorating just living and seeing what life will bring our way.

So for this year at least, that is my new system for measuring goals. I want to see what we end up doing, whether we have embraced creativity, pursued what God has for us and discovered more about who we are and what brings us joy. I want to make sure I don’t waste my time on social media or overwhelm my time by forcing my schedule to fit in too many things. Instead I want to spend time with God, invest in relationships and use my time to appreciate the beauty and goodness that this world offers. I want to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, accept but not dwell on the frustrations and disappointments that arrive and develop a perspective bigger than what I can see. I want to experience new things, make the most of where I’m at and trust that by relinquishing control of what’s next, whatever comes will be exciting, challenging and satisfying.

Escapism and the importance of creativity

Creativity is critical to contentment. It makes sense when you think about it. This world is a thing of beauty, designed by the ultimate Creator. It is inspiring by its very nature.*

The joy of creativity is that it offers us an escape from the rubbish of this world by transporting us temporarily to another reality. Really good creativity returns us to our lives with either renewed resolve or at least a clearer perspective. A good book, film, piece of music or art all have the power to reach a part of us that is untouchable by the rest of the world.

I find my escapism in movies – it’s why I’m so interested in film production and why, when I was younger (and still today), I used to sit in the cinema and wait until all the credits had rolled before leaving; I wanted to see the names of the people who had created this story that had pulled me in and made me ponder life.

My husband’s creative outlet is writing and he’s outrageously good at it. When I read his words, I am transported to Cairo, to France, to a time when life was different; not necessarily better or worse, just different. As well as entering into another world, there are phrases hidden throughout his work that capture elements of life beautifully. Through artistic prose, he explains what usually cannot be articulated.

This realisation of the importance of creativity has been quite ground-breaking for me. As Elspeth Thompson writes in The Wonderful Weekend Book: “We neglect our creativity at our peril.” Whatever our medium, we are all creative – be it in an acknowledged art form or simply in the way we find solutions to problems and use our initiative. If we suffocate this instinct in ourselves, it can have quite grave consequences. I’d go as far as to say that neglecting our creativity can be one of many triggers of illnesses such as depression. When we’re forced to conform to a rhythm of 9-5, sat at a desk in an office, many of us are moulding ourselves into something we were not born to be.

It’s no wonder then, that when my previous jobs have narrowed the scope for me to use my creativity, I have very quickly grown bored, stifled and moved on. When I’m not allowed to use my brain, to find a way to practice my creativity, my inner calm becomes agitated and I look for ways to rediscover that balance.

I’m thankful that my husband realised all of this long ago and has been pursuing ways to use his creativity. He has rejected the contemporary lifestyle of 9-5 in favour of living a life that far closer resembles one that is lived to its fullest. He is embracing his God-given gifts and creative instinct and he has made himself and our marriage more joyous in the process.

*pun completely intended

Trusting in…

I’ve entered a season in my life that is completely new to me by one definition alone: I don’t know what’s next. I have always had ambitions, aims, goals and planned paths to help me get to where I wanted to go but I find myself in the slightly baffling position of having achieved what I wanted to by this age. In one sense, that is an incredible blessing but in another sense it leaves me feeling a little lost.

So I ask – what’s next? I have no defined journey to work towards and no comfort from knowing where I’m going because I’m there. I got to my destination. I had never really considered much past this point.

I’m living life without knowing: without knowing where I’m going, what’s next, how I’m going to get there or how I’m going to feel like I’m still achieving and learning new things. I’m not trusting in my own ability to get somewhere nor am I trusting in time to work in my favour, which leaves me trusting in the only one who knows what’s next for me: God.

It’s probably a good place to be because in my ‘not knowing’ I am left with no choice but to place my life in His hands. I have no clue what I’m stepping into so I’m thankful that I have someone walking alongside me. I am hoping that I learn how to live life without knowing in a way that is fulfilling and I am also hoping that as and when a little direction comes my way, I don’t forget how to take each step in faith.

As for me and my house

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

~ Joshua 24:15

This verse has had layers of meaning added to it over recent weeks. It has popped up often in my quiet times, in conversation and at a conference I went to recently.

It reminds me that no matter what I may do and say, no matter what priorities push to the fore and no matter what stage of life I am at, there is one thing that remains the same: I serve the Lord. Regardless of the goals I have for myself, for us as a couple or for our future family, we serve the One who made us.

It is a declaration over my household and to all who enter that we are made to live for God and it is a challenge to me to make time in my daily schedule to spend time with my Father to bring my perspective in line with His. When I do that, the definition of a life well lived is realigned and falls according to how willingly I’m bringing God into my every day.

Joshua knew where his allegiance lay. He was speaking to God’s chosen people and even they had forgotten the great I Am and all that He had done for them. There was no shame in Joshua’s declaration. For me, it is a promise not only for myself but for my family, that those who live under our roof serve the Lord and as such, our relationship with Him becomes our priority.

Helper

When my husband is having a tough time, it truly breaks my heart. It is as though my own soul is being torn apart. That makes sense really when you consider that he is the person I treasure most on this earth. He is an extension of me and therefore it comes as no surprise that what he feels, I feel. When he’s anxious, I’m a complete fidget, abuzz with his nerves. When he’s happy, I’m giddy with joy. When he’s sad, I cry.

So when there is very little I can do to make things better, I feel powerless.

A wonderful friend who has walked through so many highs and lows of life with me, text me a beautiful encouragement yesterday. She understands that the reason I’m hurting is because I care about him to the core of who I am, but her following words were a little insight into my heart:

“You love him and you desire good for him. But you are his partner, his helper; you are not his saviour.”

What wisdom. I cannot possibly make everything right for him on my own. I am only human. It is easy in marriage to assume the responsibility of being everything to your spouse but that isn’t what we’re supposed to be; everything cannot rest on one flawed human being.

I was made to be by his side, to help him, support him, encourage him and love him with all of my being. But releasing me from the duty of saving him is quite a revelation. Our friends, our family and our God all play huge roles in who we become. We’ll walk this life, through its mountaintops and valleys, together.