You know how every child is superlative in their own way? The cutest, the smartest, the loudest.
Our second son is the happiest.
This boy brims over with grins. Every photo we snap shows bright eyes and beaming smiles. He wakes up with delight and he chortles to himself all day long. And it’s not just his biased parents who notice it. Strangers stop me in the store or cluck his chin after church, remarking that he’s just such a happy baby.
While his older brother was a fairly cheerful chap, there was still a cautious look about him. Many of his early pictures reveal a startled shock in his eyes, unsure if this whole Existence Ex-Utero thing was to be trusted.
But #2 is 100% delighted at life. Ceiling fans! The dog that licks his face! Peek-a-boo! Babies in the mirror! Everything is funny, joyful, rollicking to our young lad. And lately his giggles and grins have made me wonder if I give enough space in my day for joy.
Celebrating the joys in my life was one of my New Year’s resolutions. But I’ve slipped away from this simple daily practice of pausing in contentment. Joy seems buried under to-do lists, kitchen clutter, and loads of laundry. Once again in the spiritual cycles of my life, I’ve let the busy get in the way of the mindful.
I wonder what I can learn from my youngest son about joy. I’m not an unhappy person, but I sometimes tend towards the stance of my older son: a bit hesitant, a bit cautious. I long to borrow a bit of his baby brother’s delight at the world.
Certainly he doesn’t have the burdens of adulthood to worry about. No deadlines or bills loom over his sweet head. He doesn’t have the depth of emotional awareness that clouds my day when I hear depressing news – a loved one’s illness, a friend’s death, a news story about unbearable suffering in a far-off land. Worry is not yet a habit he’s developed. He’s wrapped in the pure joy of childhood like a warm blanket.
But his joy is resilient.
Last week he cut his first tooth. The milestone was heralded by a few fussy days, a few restless nights. The cranky departure from our normal jolly gentleman came as a clear sign that a change was on the horizon. But this morning as I write, he’s all goos and giggles beside me, happily gnawing on a toy with his one wee pearl of a tooth. He’s bounced back like the pain never existed.
The persistence of his cheerful nature is teaching me that joy is not simply a reaction or a response. It’s a way of life. It’s the way this child operates – his default mode. I’ve known few people like this in my life, but every time I come across them, I’m filled with longing to borrow their joy, to see the world with their bright, loving, open eyes. Joy is contagious like that.
Certainly the joy of an adult differs from the innocent bliss of a child. But while my daily swirl of cares and concerns often shift me into a different gear, I also possess a capacity to make choices that my baby cannot. So I can make a decision to delight. To celebrate. To give thanks for goodness. Knowing the darkness of the world and its shadows, how much brighter and more meaningful is my decision to choose joy?
And if joy – in God’s goodness, in the promise of resurrection, in the triumph of love over evil – is central to the Christian life, how does my daily demeanor reflect the deep convictions underneath?
How can I refuse to let anything steal my joy?