We live in a culture where being exhausted, overextended and overbooked are the norms. We squeeze as many bullet points as possible into our daily to-do lists, and we feel accomplished and productive when every point is checked off by 11 p.m.
But are we really satisfied with our lives? Is there true joy in our daily living?
For most of us, the truest part of ourselves must honestly admit to a lack of satisfaction. We see the symptoms in the way we binge-watch Netflix for hours on end, drink two bottles of wine on Friday night, browse social media—searching for something we can’t even name—in every spare moment and eat everything in the cupboard when darkness falls. Our souls are empty, and we’re longing for more—more purpose, more fulfillment, more joy in life.
Here are five suggestions on how to increase your joy in life in ways that matter:
Acknowledge the true longing behind the emptiness.
If I’m really going to satiate my desires, it helps to take a look at what I’m actually longing for. Am I really in need of more nutrition in my diet, or is this just my empty soul? Do I really want to change the layout of the photos on the dining room wall, or is my Pinterest obsession more about distracting myself?
When I’m real about it, I often find that my desire is for a deep kind of communion that comes through unguarded relationships. Sitting with a close friend and connecting on the deepest level can bring this kind of fulfillment; however, often, I realize I long for a love so deep and true that no person could ever meet my needs. I long for communion with the God who created me. Acknowledging that I long for a face-to-face interaction with God is a good place to start.
Close a door and commune.
Jesus spent a lot of time by himself on mountainsides. He was desperate to get alone and commune with his Father. Think about it, never in the history of eternity had the Trinity been split in such a way. The three-in-one God literally bore separation so that we would experience his love. Jesus was desperate to get alone with the One he longed for.
When I’m honest about this one, I have to admit that a sleeve of Oreos sounds much more fulfilling than the work of prayer. Sometimes prayer just feels like work, and when I’m overworked, the last thing I want is more work. But communion with God doesn’t have to look like work, and it doesn’t look the same for any two people.
Closing the door and communing with God might look like reading the Bible for me, and it might look like turning on a worship playlist for my friend. It might look like journaling, or it might look like painting with a worshipful heart. The key is to get alone and connect.
I get alone and connect with God in many ways: I take long walks outside, sit by creeks, sit in my room with a candle and an open journal, memorize verses and stare at beautiful landscape screensavers while I exercise on my elliptical. The key to each of these activities is that I take time to listen.
The God of the universe wants to pour His love out upon His children. He wants to speak of His love and let His tender mercies fall afresh. Too often, we’re so caught up in talking, reading, praying and asking that we overlook the need to listen.
More often than not, when I ask God to speak to me, He says the same thing: He tells me how much He loves me. I hear the still small voice whisper words of love, and I know they come from my Father in heaven. Nothing fills my empty soul more than listening to my Father speak words of love over my life.
Do something you love.
We tend to over-spiritualize our lives. I’m passionate about the wilderness and adventure: hiking, camping, fishing, trail running, climbing mountains, swimming in glacial lakes and exploring new places.
For about a decade, I quit pursuing these passions because I believed they weren’t spiritual enough. I actually felt guilty about hiking, camping and fishing. Slowly, God showed me that these passions were put in my heart by Him. He is pleased when He sees me enjoying recreational passions.
I don’t advocate quitting ministry to pursue our recreational passions full time, but we all need diversions from the mundane parts of life.
Go ahead, splurge. Plan that vacation you’ve been dreaming of. Get out the old tennis racket. Go check out that museum you keep driving past. Pursuing our passions fills us with energy and vitality. God is pleased when we are filled by the things we love.
Help someone you wouldn’t normally help.
We all have people we help on a regular basis: close friends, parents, neighbors and co-workers. But what about the acquaintance who just lost her mother? What about the elderly woman struggling to get her groceries to her car? What about the people behind the desk at the DMV?
How could you bless someone today? Stepping outside your normal realm of giving will breathe fresh life into your weary soul. Make a dozen cookies (or buy them) and find someone who would like them. Stop by the local nursing home and befriend a lonely elderly person. Walk into the grocery store and ask God to show you which clerk to bless with a tip, a compliment or a smile. You might be surprised by how exciting life quickly becomes.
Wherever you are today, there’s a good chance these words find you exhausted, over scheduled and overextended. An encounter with the heart of God will fill your soul with joy in a way nothing else can. It’s time to pursue that encounter.