Months ago, as I was considering the word that would define my year, one word settled in my soul. After a year of releasing things and people and feelings and stories, it was time to enjoy.
You ready for this earth-shattering, groundbreaking revelation?
I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.
Whew. I feel better.
When I think about a life filled with joy, a person that embodies the very word, I do not fit the bill.
Isn’t the joyful person carefree and bubbly and spontaneous and upbeat? If you know me at all, I am none of those things, so what does it really look like to enjoy life?
I read a quote recently by Henri Nouwen (it was on the Internet, and I haven’t actually read any of his books, shame on me!) that said: “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it.”
Okay, there’s one clue to this mystery. Sometimes, maybe lots of times, joy is a choice. And not a one-time choice.
That is the theme I’m seeing repeated in these first few months of the year.
When I started this joy journey, I thought of course this year would be more enjoyable because the past few years have been so awful that anything–anything–had to be better. In some ways, I was right. We are healthy in multiple ways, finally thriving after years of merely surviving, and that in itself is a reason for joy.
Still, this fear: What if it doesn’t last?
What would you say are the best years of your life?
I posed this question on Facebook after Phil and I had a conversation about “the best years of your life.” At various times in our life, people have told us “this is the best time of your life!’ They’ve said it about high school (sorry, not true); college (um, maybe?); the first year of marriage (nope); seminary (not even close); and parenting young children (sigh). I’ve heard it said your 20s are the best years, your 30s and so on for every decade of life.
Which is why I posed the question. I suspected people of varying ages would answer the question differently. And I was right!
The responses I got ranged from high school to middle age to retirement.
And I’m beginning to think the answer to enjoying life is this:
The best days are now.
The best years are now.
If we choose to let them be.
Maybe you want to throw your computer across the room when you read that. Part of me wants to give myself a stern talking to for saying those words because I have been in some days, some years that I would not consider as best and I would have cussed out anyone who tried to tell me otherwise.
But here’s another truth: Even the best of times have their faults, and if I’m looking for perfect circumstances before I let myself enjoy life, I’ll die empty and miserable, having wasted the days and years I was given waiting for something better.
When I think back on the life I’ve lived so far, high school wasn’t great, but I made some good friends. Would I do things differently if I could? Absolutely. But I had no idea who I was or who I was becoming, and I think that’s another key to enjoying who you are and where you are. College, too, had its high points, including an unbelievable semester living in a manor house in England and traveling to Scotland, Ireland, Paris and Italy. I’m constantly dreaming about going back. But college was also a time of messy self-discovery. I learned some hard lessons and made some of the biggest mistakes of my life.
If I had to answer that question, I’d say my 20s were pretty great. Post-college, I made some amazing friends, had some great experiences of hanging out, going to concerts, traveling and doing the kinds of things when you’re young, working full-time and have no other obligations or attachments. But I struggled in those years to enjoy my job and I desperately wanted an other of the significant kind in my life, and even after I found him, he spent a year in Iraq, which was another of those best-worst times. Even then, I didn’t know who I was.
And my 30s? They’ve been full of marriage messes and family messes and learning to parent and failing and getting back up and figuring out what God has planned through all this. Even though I crest the hill of my 30s next month and look at the downhill toward the next decade of life, I can’t say that my 30s have been the best, either.
So, where does that leave me? Hoping that in my 40s life will get better? It’s possible. But it’s also possible it won’t. I could get cancer. My husband could die. My kids could give me crushing grief.
I don’t know what the next decade of life could bring, so I have to draw a line now and say: This. Right here. Right now. This is the best time of my life because it’s the only time I have. <Tweet that>
I know it’s not easy. I know it takes work. I’m working at it every day. And I know it’s worth it.
I hope you’ll decide to work at it, too and find it worth the effort.
On Friday, I’ll share some specific ways I’ve found to enjoy life, even when it doesn’t look like I thought it would.
In the meantime, ask other people the question: What would you say were the best years of your life? The answers will surprise you.
And if you care to share your answer, leave a comment here.
Let’s help each other choose joy in any and every circumstance.