It’s the season of celebration: Christmas carols, concerts, school plays and festivities of all kinds. Smiling faces, light hearts, toasts to the year that is past and to the one ahead. And I’m all for it - I love a fun crowd, an excuse to pull together friends old and new, and especially a good reason to get dressed up.
There have been times in my life, though, when it has been easier to celebrate. When celebration has just flowed out of a season that was light, joy-filled, and bubbling with that sense of wellbeing that is the result, not of contrived formulae, but of a blending of life’s unique elements at just that particular moment in time. Those are times when celebration comes naturally, times we should relish for their precious and inimitable richness.
Life is not always like that. We know this, right?! And it doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong, or that we’ve made a mistake. There could be any number of reasons why we don’t feel like celebrating.
And that is exactly when we should.
You see, celebration can be natural and easy but, when it’s not, it can be a powerful choice, a discipline if you will, that produces the very sort of joy we wish we were feeling.
Years ago, when we were preparing to leave England to live in a remote part of Mozambique, we were given some advice by a seasoned missionary. It was the kind of advice that seemed innocuous, nice even, but which grew in significance the longer we had to reflect on it. He said the key to pioneering is to celebrate, and to celebrate often. Celebrate the small successes, celebrate when the successes are so small that no one else would notice them. Celebration is the digging of a well, the water of which becomes that sweet, life-giving elixir that adds joy to an otherwise tough season.
Because pioneering is tough. Pioneering is that time in the life-cycle of a project when it seems that all you do is dig hard ground without ever knowing if it will be worthwhile. Pioneering is head-down, teeth-gritted, focus-on-the-goal-and-don’t-mind-the-pain. You don’t expect things to be easy when you’re pioneering, you anticipate setbacks, discomfort, sacrifice.
For a while, your courage and determination fuel your efforts in the face of hard times. Courage and determination can carry you quite some distance. But when courage fails you and determination wears thin, what do have then?
You have the option to cultivate joy.
So we celebrated putting the roof on the house we built out of wood and mud, and we celebrated hitting water in the new well. We celebrated new friendships, and we celebrated old friends coming to visit. We celebrated making headway in the language. And establishing rhythms that made us feel ‘normal.’ We celebrated getting away from our little backwater for a break, and we celebrated returning with a fresh sense of purpose.
It seems so counter-intuitive to think of celebration as a discipline and joy as something to cultivate. Surely if these things are worth having, they should flow naturally? Having kids has helped me get over this particular hang-up and set about celebrating whenever we get the chance, even when it feels hard.
This year has been a demanding one. We have faced significant challenges in our work (have you read that book, ‘Crucial Conversations?’ This could be the year that book was written for!). I have travelled quite a bit, which I’ve loved but it hasn’t helped me to feel connected to our local team. True holiday rest has been thin on the ground, which doesn’t contribute to relational closeness as a couple. And we have a teenager, for heaven’s sake; that its own kind of demanding! Close friends have faced really tough times, and we have a significant crisis still unfolding in our region.
What better time than this to celebrate?! I know, weird huh?
When I step away from my resentment towards my husband and enter wholeheartedly into celebrating 23 years of marriage, I generate joy.
When I lay aside the emotional outbursts of my teen and instead celebrate her, I generate joy.
When I can hold the pain I feel for faraway friends and still celebrate with those that are nearby, I generate joy.
When I can get around my own sense of disconnection with our team and choose to celebrate all that we have achieved together this year, I generate joy.
When I can swallow all the stress of having a kid in a school system I don’t understand, in a language I am still learning, and celebrate getting to the end of another term with a happy child? You guessed it: I generate joy.
Is it hard? Sometimes, yes. Is it worth it? Every time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the bursting-out-of-the-seams, can’t-hold-it-in kind of celebration any time. Yes sir! But am I going to hang around, waiting for it to ‘happen to me?’ No. I’m going to practice celebrating when I don’t quite feel like it. I’m going to make my own joy and then use it as fuel for the journey.
What about you?