|The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Nagley|
It was a summer day like any other. Bob Gordon, with his big brown dog riding shotgun, pulled his red Ford truck into Charlie Freiberg’s gas station. When Bob finished filling up with gas and talking to Charlie, the dog was rewarded with an ice cream bar. “Put it on the tab”, Bob told Charlie; as they drove off to check out the new harvesters at the John Deere dealership. Down the block Mr. Olmstead swept the sidewalk in front of his grocery store and across the street Fred and Ruth Turk opened up the hardware store.
On most summer mornings, my sister and I would watch “I Love Lucy” reruns and eat cinnamon toast keeping a look out for my father. Eventually, he would walk across the vacant lot from the train depot to check on our morning chore progress. I don’t know if we truly fooled him, but we could move pretty fast turning off TV, stashing the toast and starting the vacuum cleaner before he reached the front door. Once the chores were done we would go to the swimming pool where we would remain until dinnertime. I remember those days of summer, in that small town, as a long stretch of joy.
Joy in summer or any season met its challenge as I grew older. Joy makes us vulnerable. Vulnerability is defined as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. After a broken heart or three, after a couple of disappointments and disasters we develop the art of foreboding joy.
Truth is, we live in a world that offers plenty of reason to suspect joy and even doubt its existence. We reflexively wait for the other shoe to drop, or a piece of the sky to fall, and assume that if something good happens, something bad is just around the corner. And the truth is, for all our contingency plans, for all the “what if’s”, life won’t be controlled and things will happen and what a pity if joy wasn’t in the plans.
Brené Brown, who researches vulnerability and its components, interviewed a man in his early sixties who said to her, “I used to think the best way to go through life was to expect the worst. That way you were prepared and if it didn’t happen you were pleasantly surprised. Then I was in a car accident and my wife was killed. Expecting the worst didn’t prepare me at all. My commitment to her is to fully enjoy every moment now. I just wish she was here, now that I know how to do that.”
Practicing joy is a spiritual discipline. On good days, I remember to practice being grateful for it instead of ducking for cover. And, on good days, I try to avoid confusing not jumping for joy with piety by drafting on the children who run in the church and skip to communion remembering what Jesus said: “…I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Nagley is the rector of St. Luke's, Bethesda.
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What does joy look like for you this summer? How do you experience joy in your life?