“We are afraid of joy…We need to overcome the fear of joy; we need to think of the many times we are not joyful because we are afraid.”
~ Pope Francis
Panic set in as I settled down for the day. It was evening, and all was quiet in the house for the first time in twelve hours. At last, my body gave way to rest as I nestled in our over-sized couch and turned the heating pad on high to soothe my aching pregnant back. And that’s when it hit me: I’m going to have a baby soon.
Somehow, this reality of new life that has been forming inside my womb for over eight months only recently struck me as happening soon. As Ben so aptly defines our life, it’s like a kid rodeo: every day, it’s a new adventure (?) with a 4- and 6-year-old. We deal with messes, whining, screeching (yes, screeching, as in a screech owl decibel), back-talking, fighting, lying, and constant energy – among other things – on a daily basis. And I am bone weary. My brain is even exhausted from answering “what’s that” from Sarah and “why” from Felicity, often repeating myself multiple times per day.
How can I do this? I wonder as I ponder for the first time that this is a baby, a new and beautiful and wondrous creation of human life! How could I have allowed so much time to pass by without noticing her, talking to her, contemplating the beauty of pregnancy? The gift of another baby was something Ben and I had prayed fervently for. We prayed for years, because we knew we were called to expand our family after Sarah was born. And now we are anticipating her arrival, and all I can do is panic.
The fear of joy sets in. I am unable to bask in the gift, the beauty, the wonder of our baby. All I can do is consider the “what ifs.” What if she has special needs like our other two girls? What if I can’t handle a newborn again at my age? What if there’s really no time to think or pray or listen to God speak to my heart?
What am I going to do, Lord? I silently cry out in desperation, though I know there’s no answer right now. The time will come soon enough when I will learn another “new normal” and adjust to whatever that will be. For now, I read the sagacious words from Pope Francis that remind me to rebuke my fear and enter into resurrection joy! It’s the Easter season, after all, and we are a people of the Resurrection. Why can’t I discover this joy, and why am I afraid of it?
I think it’s because, for many of us, we live day to day in this sort of sterile, predictable bubble. We eat basically the same foods, engage in our daily routines, and mindlessly produce at work or at home. Many of us discipline ourselves for prayer, but we aren’t ready to be shaken from what is familiar and comfortable. We fear the unknown, and thus we fear joy.
Why? Because joy can’t occur without some level of spontaneity. Joy doesn’t exist in a vacuum or box we’ve created to encompass everything we want to control. No, joy must be lived and experienced in a novel way each day.
The moments I’ve truly experienced joy in my life have been entirely unpredictable and unplanned. In fact, that’s how the Holy Spirit primarily works in my life, anyway. I tend to get stuck inside my negative thought patterns, but there are many opportunities God gives me to step away from the fear and enter into joy. This happens when I’m exasperated after mediating incessant fights between my girls for hours, only to glance outside and notice young rabbits frolicking in the backyard, carefree and unbridled.
Joy happens when I catch Felicity hugging Sarah and telling her “I love you” or overhear Sarah say to no one in particular, “Look at the beautiful flowers! Isn’t it a gorgeous day?” Joy uplifts me, takes me on a flight to Heaven, even if only fleetingly. But it always cancels my fear of what may come, of whatever impending doom I have conjured in my imagination. Joy always elevates my soul to the place of here and now, the gift of the present moment. Somehow I am able to regain a sense of childlike wonder in these moments, because I notice the world and creation and everything God has given me, including the little providential movements of His grace.
If we look, we will see opportunities to enter into the joy of the Resurrection. We will discover it is new each day, just like God’s mercy freshly unfurls for us each dawn. It is fitting that we live out Eastertide for so long and during the spring months, because we need to be reminded that life is a gift, and life abounds everywhere!
I smile as I consider this truth, patting my rounding belly. Life is a gift, little Veronica, I softly tell her. Somehow I know that, despite the challenges that lay ahead for me as a mother, she will – and already has – blessed and enriched our family. She will be the “true image” who reflects to my entire family the joy of Easter, if only I take the time in my harried moments of overwhelm to notice.