For those of you who have been wondering why it's been a while since I've written—here or elsewhere, I can only say that I've been feeling like Alexander in a continuous loop of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (if you don't know this children's book, hear it here). Mostly it's been a lot about work, stress, budget and staffing issues, but it also had to do with having to replace the oil tank ($$$) and then the computer hard drive crashing ($$$) and having to set up a new computer. Or so I thought, but I discovered that a lot of other folks are also feeling stretched too tightly.
As I got up and left the house in the dark this week, I wanted to blame the extension of daylight saving time as a contributor to the stress and sense of being overwhelmed that everyone I've talked to is bearing, from colleagues to neighbor to friend to grocery clerk. But although I don't think the early morning dark helps, it's also not the cause. It could be the economy, but at least all of the people I talked to are working, so that's an indirect cause for many of us.
So, I decided that I needed to pay attention, and yesterday on the way to work I started looking for bumper stickers. In previous reflective periods of my life, I have come to value bumper stickers for their inspirational value and as a barometer of how people are feeling about the world. My problem this week: there are hardly any bumper stickers, fun or otherwise, on cars anymore! I realize it's a limited sample, but I commute through what was at one point in the past twenty years, although perhaps not today, one of the most densely populated cities in the United States, and there are a lot of cars on the road and parked on the streets. There were two or three slightly tattered presidential election bumper stickers, one religious sticker in Portuguese (although my Portuguese is nearly non-existent, I recognize the words for God and Jesus). Just when I'd decided that bumper stickers have become useless as a societal barometer, a car pulled in front of me with this bumper sticker:
"Don't Postpone Joy."
That was the catalyst and proof. I've figured it out. The reason we're all so stressed is we don't have enough whimsy in our lives. And that bumper sticker is excellent advice.
So, what joyful, whimsical thing can you do?
Clue 1: it doesn't require money, or shopping.
Clue 2: it has to be personal to you.
Clue 3: smiles probably help and may be essential.
Clue 4: Don't stress over it, but answer the question: What brings me Joy?
Clue 5: Having answered that, act on your answer.
I also will acknowledge that for many of us our work is not what brings us joy. I don't know what it takes to change our attitudes about our current job or to change our jobs while we are in them or by leaving them (harder in this economic climate), but we need to find something more in our work that gives us peace and/or joy. I'm inspired to assert this is possible after reading this poem by Wendell Berry. I highlight the lines that caught my attention relative to my last few weeks at work. What would it take to have work that is more like Sabbath?
What if, in the high, restful sanctuary
That keeps the memory of Paradise,
We’re followed by the drone of history
And greed’s poisonous fumes still burn our eyes.
Disharmony recalls us to our work.
From Heavenly work of light and wind and leaf
We must turn back into the peopled dark
Of our unraveling century, the grief
Of waste, the agony of haste and noise.
It is a hard return from Sabbath rest
To lifework of the fields, yet we rejoice,
Returning, less condemned in being blessed
By vision of what human work can make:
A harmony between wood-land and field,
The world as it was given for love’s sake,
The world by love and loving work revealed
As given to our children and our Maker.
In that healed harmony the world is used
But not destroyed, the Giver and the taker
Joined, the taker blessed, in the unabused
Gift that nurtures and protects. Then workday
And Sabbath live together in one place.
Though mortal, incomplete, that harmony
Is our one possibility of peace.
When field and woods agree, they make a rhyme
That stirs in distant memory the whole
First Sabbath song that no largess of time
Or hope or sorrow can wholly recall.
But harmony of earth is Heaven-made,
Heaven-making is promise and is prayer,
A little song to keep us unafraid,
An earthly music magnified in air.
I would be glad if you would share with me what your joyful act is, and what thing you can and will do to make your work more like true Sabbath, rather than your Sabbath more like work, something I suspect that more of us know how to do.
If you don't know the difference between work and Sabbath, I would suggest that you follow God's example to find out about Sabbath: see that what you have created is good and rest on at least the seventh day. Or perhaps you just need to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Without a doubt joy and the holy are closely related.