What is Your Barrier to Joy?

Yesterday morning, Bryan and I dropped the kids off for the children’s program at church and walked in a fatigue-induced silence across the lawn to the sanctuary.

Our worship leader’s rendition of “Joy to the World” suddenly blasted through the outdoor loud speakers. Bryan and I both started laughing, and we didn’t need to verbalize why. The contrast between our frazzled morning and the joyful exuberance of our worship center was comical.

Our twins turned four on Saturday and we had a family birthday party. Yesterday the house was still covered in all the trappings of a completed childhood celebration: half-deflated Mickey balloons, torn wrapping paper strewn about and new presents all over the floor. Getting three small children out the door with so many new things to explore is like herding cats. Needless to say, we were running very late. We were annoyed at the kids, they were annoyed at us, and we were annoyed at each other.

By the time we dutifully took our seats in worship 15 minutes late, I was ready for just about anything other than a sermon on joy. I had trouble staying focused until our pastor posed this question:

What is your barrier to joy?

I certainly felt I had a barrier to joy at that moment, so I was happy to address the question. After the time our pastor gave us for prayerful reflection, I came to this answer:

Scarcity of time.

There is virtually no personal time in my life right now. Especially for those of us who are introverts, a lack of personal time feels like a disaster. I’m like a squirrel constantly sniffing around for a free moment.

The more you feel you need something that you don’t have, the more you seek it. The more you seek it, the more it becomes an idol.

Free time has become my idol.

“If only” I had more time to read without being so tired that I fall asleep trying, I would be more joyful the rest of the day.

“If only” my kids weren’t all 4 and under, they wouldn’t need my constant attention, and I could have a few personal minutes during the day.

If only, if only, if only.

We spend a lot of time stuck in the “if onlys,” as if we are entitled to certain prerequisites for joy. Part of me was delighted to hear our pastor ask about our barriers to joy because it somehow validated that something real is in my way. If only I can identify it and remove it, then I’ll be on my way to a more joyous daily life. Right?

So I identified it, as he asked, and was ready to remove it. But wait! What can I do to remove the barrier of “scarcity of time?” Sure, I can eliminate an activity here or there, but nothing is going to change the nature of daily life with three kids under five right now.

Realizing this, I began to consider a different question – the flip side of “if only”:

What if things stay exactly the same?

I will continue to have the daily logistical struggle of having three young children for at least a couple of years. I will continue to be tired after long days with the kids. I will continue to lack personal time for…a (long) while.

When we remain in the world of “if only,” hanging on to a self-proclaimed barrier to joy, we fool ourselves into thinking joy depends on our circumstances. The Bible is clear that it does not. Our joy is simply to be found and completed in the knowledge of God’s grace and our salvation (John 15:11).

The only barrier to joy, therefore, is believing there is one. By asking, “What if things stay exactly the same?” we challenge ourselves to come out of our comfort zone, where we often hide behind the joyless excuses of “if only.”

If things stay exactly the same, I won’t have much free time, but I can have just as much joy.

What barriers to joy do you feel you have? Is it comforting or scary to consider what joy looks like if things in your life “stay exactly the same?”

4 thoughts on “What is Your Barrier to Joy?”

  1. Wow. You put into words how many feel. We go through a day only once , and moments with children or in other relationships fly by quickly. Having joy in not contingent on things, but how I feel about things. What I hear you saying is that maybe not all of the time, but at many times, even though we are busy, we can choose joy.

  2. Looking forward to seeing if the other Advent themes generate blog posts as good as this one. 😉 Hope – Joy – Peace – Love… I didn’t grow up in churches that observed the “four Sundays of Advent”, so when as an adult I came to the church I am at now, it was a pleasant surprise. I hear you with “lack of time” being an “idol”. For me it’s lack of SLEEP. I have many chronic illnesses, and sometimes when that alarm goes off and I’ve just barely managed to fall asleep, I get up crying. (Like this afternoon, when I had to attend a web meeting for work – I usually work overnights, so attending a critical meeting in the afternoon is like one of the day people being asked to do so at 2 am.) It takes a concerted effort to not let that fatigue get in the way of joy. Or I should say, it has to be a conscious decision, like in the “Love is a Decision” book.

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