Note: This is a guest post by Johanna Rehbaum, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Pittsford, NY. She enjoys pine-covered mountains, perfectly ripe avocados, writing theological reflections, and jam sessions with her husband and two young children. She can often be caught mindlessly harmonizing.
Joy: Our Natural State
I had been working with my spiritual director for weeks to identify joy in my life. I was going through a rough patch in life, during which joy was difficult to find– but I’d finally had something of a breakthrough.
“I felt some joy!” I exclaimed in my session. She asked me to describe how the joy felt in my body. “It feels light,” I said. “Unburdened. Free.”
She looked me in the eye and said, “That joy is your natural state. It is God’s intention for you. Follow that joy.”
That was a turning point for me. As I continued to reflect on joy, and notice how my body experienced it, I noticed how intertwined these feelings are for me: joy, peace, unburdened, free. And so, I watched for those feelings – and I also watched for when their opposites crept into my life and my heart.
Soon enough, I realized that I consistently felt burdened each morning when I got dressed. The decision fatigue, especially in the midst of a pandemic that was so full of difficult decisions, was wearing on me. I realized daily that while I didn’t dislike my wardrobe, it also didn’t really delight me. And so, every single day, I was beginning my day by doing something that brought me little joy, and made me feel burdened.
“I came that they may have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) I wondered, what is abundant about a life that feels burdened?
“That joy is God’s intention for you,” my spiritual director had said. Abundant, joyful life is God’s intention.
So, what could I do to snap myself out of the daily burden of getting dressed, and step into that abundant life that Jesus promises?
Enter the 100 Day Dress Challenge. I had a few friends who had participated in this quirky challenge (including Becca, who wrote about it on the Christian Minimalism blog), which is encouraged by a specific company who claims their dresses are durable and versatile enough that they can be worn for 100 days in a row. I had considered trying it, but for various reasons, I had put the idea aside.
But now, in my realization of how much joy and abundant life I was losing out on from my daily chore of getting dressed, I recognized the urgings of the Spirit for what they were, and decided it was time for a reset. I took the plunge. I wore the dress for 100 days.
I was not prepared for the real joy I would find in doing this challenge. Knowing each day what I would put on released me from that burden I had been carrying. On days when I felt like being creative, I was, wearing an assortment of layers and scarves – which was fun and made me happy. On days when I didn’t have that energy for creativity, I wore whatever leggings were closest and a jean jacket. I let go of the worries and shoulds that plague my days and stifle my joy, and enjoyed the simplicity of the task of getting dressed.
Since I Lay My Burden Down
An old spiritual repeatedly declares, “Glory, glory, hallelujah, since I lay my burdens down!” And isn’t that true? Who doesn’t want to lay down those burdens that keep us from joy, and proclaim a hearty, “Glory, hallelujah!” That has been God’s hope for humanity from the beginning!
Since the Exodus, God has desired to break the yoke of captivity and free us from our burdens. As God prepares Moses for the task of leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gives Moses this message for the Israelites, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7, emphasis mine). Sure enough, God leads the Israelites out of slavery, across the Red Sea, and into freedom.
Fast-forward to Jesus, and once again, we hear about the freedom God promises – now, it is freedom from the captivity to sin and death. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed,” Jesus assures us (John 8:36). And he does make us free – breaking the bonds of death and the fear that comes with it, to bring us to life abundant.
Ah! There it is! That life abundant I have craved! It seems silly that I might catch a glimpse of this from minimizing my routine and wearing a single dress for 100 days in a row, but that is what happened. Freed from the weight of that one decision for just over three months, my body and heart began to learn better what unburdened joy could feel like. I began to shed my burden, and spend that energy instead on growing closer to God.
During the 100 days, I also found energy to begin a meditation practice, and get back into journaling. I sought out other ways to release more burdens, knowing now how good it felt. I “followed the joy,” as my spiritual director had advised. This one simple practice to start each day was enough to open my eyes to other ways I could focus on the joy God intends and desires for me, instead of getting bogged down by all the emotional and physical stuff around me.
And that feels very much like a resurrection. Glory, glory! Hallelujah!
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