There are three extremely important things that most of us want this holiday season. Wait – scratch that. We don’t just want them for Christmas, or Hanukkah, our birthday or any day in particular. We want them any and every day that we can get them. They are coveted more than money. They are desired more than jewels or fancy cars. They are often talked about, yet seldom captured.
The bad news is that these three things can’t be purchased in a store or wrapped with pretty paper. The good news is that they are available to everyone, free of charge, and we don’t have to hope that anyone else will get them for us. In fact, no one can give them to use, as much as they may want to. The only way we will receive them is by giving them to ourselves.
Brace yourself. I’m about to get cheesey. Hear me out before you count me out.
I’m talking about peace, love, and joy. These three words are written on countless holiday cards, embroidered on ugly Christmas sweaters and written on coffee cups (if the coffee company dares). These three little words have so much meaning, and yet are often tossed around carelessly and received with complacency. Only when we look inside ourselves for these qualities can we actually find them.
Yeah, yeah. I am kind of rolling my eyes as I type this, so if you’re feeling a little sarcastic or annoyed, I get it. We are told this kind of stuff all the time. We hear platitudes ad nauseum about how we just have to listen to our hearts or search our souls and we’ll discover that happiness has been there all along! I’ve certainly heard it over and over again throughout my 39 years. Reading memes and underlining passages in books hasn’t exactly cut it for me. Has it worked for you? Hearing someone tell me these things has only made me bitter, frustrated and resentful.
If peace, love and joy are so coveted, and can be found within ourselves, then why don’t more of us feel these things on a daily basis? Why are they so elusive?
The thing that I’ve found is that the simplicity of the concept is true – peace, love and joy can only be found within ourselves. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Finding peace, love and joy can take a whole lot of work. It can be very hard, indeed.
Let’s take a moment to look a little deeper at each word, along with a dictionary definition of each. I’ve analyzed these concepts intently and searched my soul for how they appear in my life. It has been hard work, and I’m still learning, but the rewards in my life have been remarkable. I encourage you to look inside yourself to find these qualities, too.
NOUN: freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity
Peace, for me, is not perfection. Rather, it is knowing with every fiber of my being that I absolutely will screw up sometimes. Guaranteed. The peace comes from knowing that those screw ups won’t define me.
Peace is knowing that other people’s opinions – although interesting and sometimes helpful – won’t define me, either. I have spent more time in my life worrying about other people’s perceptions of me than pretty much anything else I can think of. It’s kept me up at night. It’s made me stay silent at meetings. It’s made me babble ceaselessly, waiting for an encouraging nod. There has always been this tape going on in my mind, a continuous loop of what-will-she-think?’s and what-did-he-mean-by-that?’s, that I’m pretty sure has never been helpful, but it’s been there constantly, nonetheless. The truth of the matter is- we each have a version of this tape running through our heads. We don’t have time to think about other people – we’re too busy worrying about what they are thinking of us! It’s time to stop the tape.
Peace is knowing that ugly emotions will pop up in my life, and accepting them when they arise instead of denying or fighting them. Anger, jealousy, bitterness, regret, despair and anxiety are part of the package deal that comes with a human body. Rather than fighting this fact, I’m learning to accept it. The only way through it is through it. There are no shortcuts. I’m learning to feel my feelings, unpleasant as they may sometimes be, so I can get through them and out to the other side. Trying to chisel my way through an unseen tunnel may have worked for Andy Dufresne, but he had a lot of time on his hands. I’m not in a prison … well, I may be enslaved in feelings of my own self-hatred, but I don’t have to be.
Peace is knowing that I have the responsibility and power to control my life by controlling my thoughts and my actions. There is freedom in that.
NOUN: profoundly tender, passionate affection for another; a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.
The word “tender” connotes feelings of softness, delicacy and vulnerability. Most of us don’t like the word “vulnerable,” nor do we want to feel so exposed, for fear we will be hurt. However, without exposing our hearts in real and honest, vulnerable ways, we are unable to feel true tenderness. Therefore, without vulnerability, we are unable to feel true love. “Passion” brings to mind enthusiasm, fervor and intensity of spirit. We use the word to describe both the ardent highs and furious lows we experience in life. What, then, do we get when we combine tenderness and passion in our search for love?
Love is looking through gentle eyes at my character, my actions and my feelings and accepting them in whatever state they happen to be in. Love is careful attention to the injured parts of my spirit and taking tentative steps in the direction my dreams dictate. Love is acknowledgment of my imperfections. Love is hope. Love is letting myself try again after I’ve fallen too many times to count.
Love is also the ecstasy that results from dedicating myself to rigorous truth and honesty. It is devotion toward my true self. It’s the light in my soul that refuses to be extinguished. Love is stubborn and determined. It’s insatiable.
Love is reverence for all that life is, and all that I am. Love is both the tenderness and the passion I hold inside of me, waiting patiently to be discovered.
NOUN: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.
Of the three qualities we seek, joy is the most personal. Joy may feel the same for many people, but it is rarely found by pursuing the same endeavors. One person may find joy in knitting, while another finds joy in Fantasy Football. One woman may find joy in interacting with friends while another finds joy in solitude. One man may find joy in mountain climbing while another finds joy in a completed crossword puzzle.
Joy, then, can only be found by being true to oneself.
Joy is ignoring the naysayers and following my interests wherever they lead. Joy is setting aside the busy-ness of life to delight in the simple and mundane. Joy is a job well done. Joy is looking forward to trying again next time. Joy is contentment. Joy is laughter. Joy is tears. Joy is quiet, loud, gentle, powerful, fleeting and ever-lasting. Joy is always available and seldom recognized.
Joy is the discovery that I am enough.
It’s taken me a lot of work to find peace, love and joy inside of me. I have a lot of excavating yet to do. My search will never be over – and therein lies the beauty of living.
There’s one final thought about peace, love and joy that I’d like to leave you with. These are gifts we must give ourselves – that is true. But they are more likely to come into our lives if we also give them to others.
How are you giving peace, love and joy to others around you?
How are you giving peace, love and joy to yourself?
Let’s find peace, love and joy on our own … and together.