the boogeyman is small | finding joy amidst cultural trauma
Today, thanks to my toddler, I listened to the same song . . . THIRTEEN. Times. The lyrics talked about having joy down in your heart. And because the music wasn't loud enough for her liking - these young kids and their bumpity-bass music these days! - she stated:
Mommy, I need help with JOY!
I turned the volume up just a bit, and as we pulled into the parking lot for our mommy-daughter brunch date, I had a sobering and sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach:
You know what, Bee? I need help with joy, too.
The past year-plus has seen its fair share of topsy-turvy twists and turns. From brutal political blows to merciless natural disasters to terror here at home to heartbreaking upheavals in sports (chin up, U.S. men's national soccer), it feels as if there is no escaping what looks like cultural trauma: Twitter is the new Gettysburg. The comments section is the new Wild West. Fake news and real news and alt-news and granny's news all vie for all of the attention and - is it just me? Or is it not relentless? Every stranger holds potential to be "the enemy." No park or concert or school or neighborhood is off-limits. Fear is the boogeyman and he's hiding under all of our beds, waiting to jump out of our smartphones or magazines or tv screens, trying to convince us that we're doomed and done.
Recently, I was so overwhelmed by the woes of the world around me that I actually told my husband I was done for the day. Not like, "Hey! I need a 20-minute break from our adorable - yet screaming - children." But more like, "Your turn! I can't handle the world's poppycock anymore. I'm going to bed. Good luck and Godspeed." Being the amazing man that he is, he closed the door and shuffled the kids into their rooms for a play session while I snoozed and absorbed the sadness and anger and hatred and angst into the cracks of my bones and felt every single emotion until all I could call it was - tired. But I wasn't just tired. I was afraid to face the boogeyman called fear, unsure of how to parent or love or befriend or be compassionate in its presence.
I needed help with joy.
And my suspicion is that you may need help with it, too. Because this day in age, joy is scandalous. It's almost offensive to smile, to laugh, to be carefree, when the boogeyman wants so badly to keep us in the dark, cowering under our covers and crying out loud for someone else to come and rescue us.
Here's what I've learned though:
The boogeyman is only powerful if you keep the light off.
Flip the Light on, and he's a lot smaller than you ever imagined him. Not only is he smaller, but he's scared. He's scared that you've discovered his secret, that he's actually not scary at all, that he's actually in need of some company, something else to do. He may even need a friend.
Fear is the same way. Flip the Light on, and the fear becomes right-sized. You realize that, although fear is real and it's raggedy and ugly, it's scared. It's scared that you'll discover that you weren't made to fear, that it's actually a facade. It's not the biggest thing. The bigger thing is Light. And once Light holds fear's hand, fear's power dissolves into consent. And consent lays the foundation for joy to take its place.
What is Light? I personally believe that Light came in the form of Jesus Christ, who called Himself the Light of the world in John 8:12. But today, He filters His Light through so many cones and rods that project into our world through many different ways: In being seen and known by a friend who has the words that you don't. In extending grace to a stranger who just cut you off in traffic because - who knows? Maybe they're scared, too. In holding a brand new life that yesterday was hidden, and today is fully formed and inhaling 10, 11, 12, breaths for the very first time. In having hope beyond what the scraps of life this side of living can offer because, money, booze, sex, greed, and that new job title really can't give you peace, can they? In forgiving your greatest enemy because you realize that forgiveness doesn't simply let her off the hook, but somehow, you're free, too.
Light exposes. Light gently pushes down the mask and says, "You're breathtaking!" Light has no room and no energy for brawls and battling and spit-showdowns. Light befriends the boogeyman and says, "You don't have to do this anymore, you know. There are more options out there."
So, for the past eleven months, I've been on a quest to do what my counselor calls, "Creating a soft environment." I intentionally surround myself with people, patterns, and practices that remind me . . .
You don't have to watch the news. You don't have to furiously scroll through Twitter, thinking of the next rebuttal or 140 characters of "gotcha." You're allowed to smile. You're allowed to talk about your dreams and that new project you're excited about. You're allowed to post pictures of your adorable niece or your puppy. And you're allowed to say you're sorry and "Excuse me," and invite your neighbor over for dinner because - if you have hope beyond what this insanely flawed world can offer, I have a secret:
Nothing and no one is a threat.
You can confidently, courageously, bravely move forward in hope, changing the way people are loved and affirmed and assigned worth. You can admit the things you don't know and not feel inadequate. You can link arms with the people you - at one point - never would've tolerated - because you're safe. Truly safe. Even if you're wounded and worn out, you're safe.
And when you know this, you can exude all the joy in the world.
People may look at you crazy, but Light - Light is what helps befriend the boogeyman. And with Light and the boogeyman hand in hand, heads will turn, and people will be bewildered, and some may call you nuts. You'll have found consent. You'll have begun to flirt with joy.
But I bet you these same people will be tempted to find their boogeyman, too, and flip the Light on. They may ask it if they could, maybe, take it out to coffee sometime - just to get to know it a little better.