Last night I drove alone to The Fresh Market which my husband and I found a few weeks ago here. It's a larger store than the one I've enjoyed so much before, but in the same chain. I thought it would be a nice outing: the market is likely to become one of my "fun stops."
But I got lost three times. My map had tiny lettering which was hard to read in the fading light of evening. I couldn't find a spot to pull off the road that felt safe so I could squint at those little street names on folded paper. When I finally did, it wasn't much help. Most of the roads around me weren't on the map anyway. Not so fun.
In the end, I persevered and found the market, and then found my way home by a faster, simpler route. But it was just one more reminder among many: I'm in that difficult adjustment period which is part of any move, when even a simple outing can be complicated.
Big changes create a lot of stress for me. And getting lost is very stressful, too. So I felt upset and hot all over and hardly enjoyed the market once I arrived, in spite of finding some favorite things there. Even though I was surrounded by beauty, I experienced little of it.
It made me realize once again how much of joy is in the heart. We carry the ability to respond with joy inside ourselves. No one else can do it for us. If we lose our capacity for joy, then a sunset is just another sunset; flowers are things stuck on stems; and fresh peaches are mushy, southern fruits. We can walk through it all barely seeing or tasting, rushing from the last task to the next.
I don't want to be like that.
This means I have to do something about my stress. I have to peel back the stress off my body and soul until I can see and taste and hear again, until I can be nourished by simple, everyday gifts. Since we've moved, I've needed to do it daily.
Four Ways to Peel Back Stress and Make Room For Joy
Here are four things I've been doing lately to help me peel back the stress and make room for joy:
1. I write in my journal. In the rush of a digital, instant world, I need to make time to slow down. It's the first rule of savoring anything: we have to slow down to take it in. The funny thing is, it really doesn't matter what I write. I can scrawl silly things like, "I just ate a sandwich and coffee is brewing." These work as well as anything else.
2. I guard my sleep. I get as much as I can, until I'm rested. I take naps, too. It's amazing what a nap can do for my ability to enjoy. Did you know most Americans do not get enough sleep for optimum health and productivity? With all of our modern conveniences, we should be able to find time for rest.
There are some seasons of life for which this is not true, of course: when we have small children, sick relatives, or we have odd work hours. Or perhaps we are going through some special emotional or physical challenges. If you are in one of these situations, just do the best you can. It will get better in time.
3. I read my Bible and other thoughtful works every day I can, even on days when I'm so busy I only have time for a short passage. Reading truth gives perspective. It's a deposit I put in my mental bank which yields dividends when I find opportunities for joy. We can only rise above daily concerns to receive joy if we have a larger perspective. With reading, I increase mine. And I increase my ability to focus on something outside of worries and demands, to transcend them.
4. I single-task for part of every day. It's nearly impossible to savor a anything unless I can focus on it. So at some point, I slow down to one task only and experience it fully with all my senses. I find this to be very healing; stress melts off me when I do it. I'm not sure why. It can be as simple as making a cup of tea or watching lightning in the night sky. I'm actually getting an added bonus with this: I train my brain to pay rapt attention. I create a mental habit of it and exercise my mind in it, so that I can call up this ability at will.
How do you peel back stress and find joy?