What begins as a gift soon becomes a grind.
Endless demands. Pressing deadlines. Unexpected interruptions.
The pressure to perform and produce can leave us feeling weary in the marrow of our being. The joy designed to grow into sweet plumpness soon shrivels. Smiles become forced. Sparkling eyes grow dim.
Those closest to us see the shift long before we recognize it in ourselves. Perhaps this is one reason Paul asked, “Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then?” (Galatians 4:15)
All leaders—no matter the role or responsibility—are susceptible to losing their sense of happy certainty in God. This becomes all the more acute when your workplace or those you loved or you yourself are faced with sudden loss, pain, suffering, or death.
In my Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study, I share what began as a journey of joy and soon became a terrifying expedition when I was diagnosed with cancer. Tortured alive through brutal experiments, joy felt so out of reach. But somewhere along the way, I discovered that more than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.
Whatever battlefield you find yourself on in life—as a person whose joy-o-meter has bumped down a notch or burned out completely, or if you’re in the fight of your life—here are three ways you can begin to fight back with joy as a leader and encourage others to do the same.
1. Sidle up to the Lighthearted. With all the responsibilities of work, it’s easy to become task-oriented and give into a get-‘er-done, check-it-off-the-list mindset. Everything and everyone can soon become projects. Any sense of levity soon disappears. That’s why it’s so important as leaders to carve out time with people who remind you not to take life, ministry, or yourself too seriously.
Who tells the best jokes, makes you laugh the hardest, and lives as a bundle of joy? Make a list of names. Even if the list is short, pick up the phone and schedule some time to get together and just laugh. Enjoy each other. Allow their lightheartedness to rub off on you. Take an hour to hang out with a young kid and play. A five-year-old usually has oodles of joy and loves to share. Make time for the happy-go-lucky of life to breathe delight into your soul.
2. Create a Portal of Praise. In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” When the situations and circumstances we’re facing take our joy, we can still find the refuge of divine delight by reflecting on the faithfulness of God. Though everything spirals out of control, God remains on the throne. Though our emotions tell us give up and run away, Jesus invites the most battle-weary to sit in the seat closest to him. Though we have no words to offer God, we can still give him our song.
Where is the place you’re most frustrated and beat down as a leader? Perhaps it’s a room in your church. The children’s ministry. An associate pastor’s office. Your accounting desk. The pulpit. The empty seats. Go to that place and begin offering up words of worship. Like the prophet Habakkuk, worship God anyway. Create a portal of praise. And not always, but sometimes, you’ll sense an ever-so-faint surge of joy.
3. Embrace Mourning as a Discipline. It sounds counterintuitive, but in order to experience more joy, we must learn to mourn well. Our culture gives us endless lists for how to produce and accomplish more, even a handful of helpful hints on how to celebrate the wins of life. Rarely does anyone speak or make space for mourning the losses.
No matter how many wins you’ve managed to string together in a row, losses exist too. Sometimes it’s loss of someone you love. The death of a dream. The startling realization that life didn’t turn out like you hoped. It’s easier to jump from win to win like lily pads in a pond, but unless you allow yourself to enter the cloudy depths of grief and mourning, your emotional bandwidth will contract. Your ability to experience pain will diminish, but so will your ability to experience joy.
As a leader, you have losses that need mourning. Take a moment. Pull out a sheet of paper. Ask the Holy Spirit what losses you’ve experienced over the last year. What you record just might surprise you. Often we tell ourselves, “That was no big deal” when in fact, it was a very big deal.
Take some time to talk to God about each one. Perhaps confide in a spouse or friend. Pull away to allow yourself to rest and reflect, to process the pain. Consider writing a lament. A letter to God. Acknowledge the loss and ask for wisdom on how God wants to bring healing.
Margaret Feinberg shares her harrowing journey in the book and Bible study Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears. You can learn more at www.margaretfeinberg.com. You can follow her on Twitter @mafeinberg.