Wearing a smile but carrying a heavy heart, losing the sense of hope and optimism you once had – it’s a difficult journey when you’ve lost your joy.
Getting older is usually marked by a few things. One is the slowing down of the body, where the things you used to be able to do (or the things you say you used to be able to do) aren’t so easy to do any more. You can’t jump so high or move as freely, and at older ages you start to crack in places you didn’t know you had. One is an increase in knowledge and wisdom, that through your varied experiences in life, you feel you become more well rounded in understanding. I dunno if this is always the case, as sometimes we can have multiple bad experiences which have actually taken us further backwards or made us learn something that isn’t true or accurate.
And the other big one is that we slowly but surely become more cynical.
As life goes on, it gives you lots more reasons to be upset. With every opportunity to grow, it seems we are presented with several more disappointments, setbacks, moments where we feel like we aren’t doing as well as we should. We get the sense that we’ve lost something. Where we may have been bright eyed and optimistic about our future, the sad reality is that we are becoming ever increasingly apathetic towards what life has to offer us. Maybe you won’t get the career you want after all. Maybe you won’t get married to the sort of person you thought you would within the time frame you thought you would. Maybe you just won’t be able to ever sleep peacefully at night again.
Maybe you won’t be happy.
Let’s face it – we all go through times and seasons in our lives where our joy seems to have been lost. But it’s a haunting thing when seasons like this drag out from weeks to months… even to years.
When was the last time you were truly filled with a sense of joy in your life?
This one is for you, dear friend. Let’s have a look at what can be done when you’ve lost your joy.
Our need to properly mourn things
I think those extended periods of deep or lasting sadness can be a sign that we just haven’t gotten over something properly. We haven’t mourned it, we haven’t grieved it. It’s upset us, deeply. It’s something we think about often. It’s constantly nagging at us. The person we lost. The love that wasn’t returned. The action that left you brokenhearted. The opportunity you missed. The way you felt overlooked. The apology that wasn’t given, or received. In response to situations like that, we switch ourselves into “coping mode”. You know what I’m talking about.
It’s fine. I mean, yeah, it’s fine. I’m okay. I’ll get through it. Worse things have happened to other people. It’s not that bad. It doesn’t upset me that much… really… it’s just… acting like everything is fine now.
But it ain’t fine now.
When you drink a poison, there’s only one treatment for it. It cannot remain in your body. If it does linger in your body, it can destroy your stomach, your breathing, your blood flow, and eventually kill you. Heartbreak and disappointment are similarly destructive poisons. There’s only one way to properly process those moments, and that’s to let them hurt. In the words of one of the best songs I know on this topic:
Let it all out, get it all out, rip it out, remove it
Don’t be alarmed when the wound begins to bleed
And you said I know that this will hurt
But if I don’t break your heart, then things will just get worse
It’s painful. It’s ugly. It’s loud. But you have to let it out. Let it hurt. We can’t keep pretending that we’re okay when we’re not.
The weight of carrying others
I’ve been asked numerous times to write about the Disney Pixar film, Inside Out. Now having finally seen it, I would like to make mention of its beautiful story of a girl named Riley, who, after her parents move to a new city where nothing goes right for them, burdens herself with the expectation that she has to be the happy one. The film portrays her brain as one that contains the emotions Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy, with Joy trying to constantly make all the decisions. If it’s a heavy situation, Joy takes over and tries to make it a happy one. When Sadness attempts to make any decisions, Joy keeps her at bay. Eventually, the girl Riley has a breakdown moment with her parents, when she finally allows Sadness to expose her profound sorrow with her parents – “You need me to be happy, but I…”
I’d like to offer you a key insight into my life. I wonder if you can relate to this sort of situation as much as I can. When I was a younger man, I had a number of people close to me go through some very difficult seasons. When I would see them or catch up with them at different places, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear the phrase, “At least one of us is happy”, or “Your joy is helping carry us through this”.
But man, did I feel anything but joyful at times, especially with that pressure. And with certain people it would seem no matter how encouraging or grateful or inspiring I would try to be, the deep sorrow in their lives would just consume any attempt I would make to try to lift their spirits. And I’m not talking about people going through something difficult for a few weeks or a month or two – I’m talking years. Years where celebration was never really celebration with certain people.
I wonder if you’ve been where I was.
With some help from some mentors and some good friends, I was able to realize that it wasn’t up to me to change someone else’s emotional state. I could continue to be a support and show a lot of love, but it was actually their responsibility to look after where they were at, and it was my responsibility to look after where I was at.
Sometimes people in dark times can feel like that’s an act of abandonment, but really it’s a decision to bring freedom to your life, and also to theirs. To remove the responsibility from yourself for something that isn’t within the realms of your control anyway. Not to disown them or remove them from your life, but to understand your role in their happiness, and to understand theirs.
It’s a balance, but perhaps you may have lost your sense of joy trying to take care of someone else’s constant sorrow, cynicism, anger or loss. I wrote a bit more about this in When You’re Tired Of Always Being The Strong One.
The power of meditation
Another practical thought here hopefully, which is literally about the power of our thoughts. I’m not talking about meditation in a sense of relaxing exercises or emptying your mind, I’m referring to meditation in the sense the Hebrews understand it. The Hebrew view of meditation is literally to repeat something over and over to yourself. We all meditate on something. When you’re at the traffic lights, you might be playing over and over in your head that jerk who just cut you off. When you get home from work, you may continually replay in your mind the most stressful moment from the day.
And when you’re by yourself and feeling low, you may call to mind and repeat to yourself that moment where your heart got destroyed. That moment where they spoke down to you. That moment when they were sorry but you didn’t allow yourself to hear it.
What are you replaying in your mind? Is it the moments of negativity that dominate your thought life? Or will you balance them out with things that are noble, that are right, that are lovely, that are pure, that are commendable and excellent?
Garments of praise for a spirit of heaviness
There’s nothing that restores joy faster or more effectively than a spirit of gratitude. For all the things we may have lost in our lives, and there may be many, we still have so many amazing gifts in our lives. The breath in our lungs today. That friend who made us laugh when we caught up. The way our children smiled at us this morning. The people who we’ve been able to encourage and help. The love of God towards us that has never left us, even in our time of deepest sorrow. The calling on our lives that still remains even though we feel like we’ve disqualified ourselves so profoundly. The people in our lives who do love us. The friends who listen. The wife or husband who stays constant.
Man, you can’t read some of those without noticing your feelings change, can you? The grateful heart isn’t naive to what you’ve lost, but it isn’t ignorant of what you’ve been given.
Remember how loved and blessed you really are. When you’ve lost your joy, perhaps it’s in your place of gratitude and praise that you’ll find the mourning turned into dancing, the weeping in the night replaced by the joy that comes in the morning.
All of us go through times in our lives where joy doesn’t seem as readily available to us, but hopefully in this one there’s been a thought that’s been helpful to you. These are some things that have helped me go through some very dark seasons in my life and come out with my joy intact. I pray that you remember who you are and get your wonderful smile back.
What are some ways you’ve found helpful to restore your joy? What are some things you’ve seen help others? Don’t be shy – what you share may be someone else’s freedom.
As always, thanks for your readership and support. Drop me a line on Facebook if you haven’t already! Love getting to know my readers out there.