There’s a search for a “lightness of the soul” among my generation.
It’s Rebecca (Sheila’s daughter) here on the blog today, and I want to continue our theme this month about how sometimes our habits and attitudes may be holding us back from the life that God has for us. And I think that’s true especially with the aims of my generation.
We talk about avoiding negativity, and live by inspiring mantras that, when you break them down, don’t actually say much of anything. We throw out all our things and become a minimalist so that we aren’t dragged down by physical belongings. We don’t like to get too stressed out about buying a house, getting married immediately, or even finding the “right” job in our twenties–these are our years to find ourselves.
And I think a lot of this worldview shift is because we feel that we’ve lost purpose and joy and we’re desperately trying to find it by any means necessary. I mean, look at what live is like compared to how it was when our parents were growing up in the 60s and 70s: we’re having fewer kids now and getting married later which means we spend more time alone; we live in communities where we don’t know our neighbours, leading to isolation; we’re addicted to being entertained, and have more food options that are less healthy and more accessible than ever before; and to top it all off, we’re obsessed with getting approval from others online.
So we look around at our overwhelming, stressful lives and blame our lack of joy on an excess of “baggage,” whether it be responsibilities, family ties, or even physical belongings. We don’t even consider that maybe we’re missing out on something big that’s causing everything else to feel like “too much.”
And so we keep on trying to escape more and more with the end goal being that we have absolutely nothing in a mad pursuit to finally feel happy with ourselves.
But what if joy isn’t something you find by running away from stress?
What if the reason we don’t have a lot of joy these days isn’t because of circumstance, but because of how we make our choices?
The world right now is very self-centered. Social media alone is responsible for a huge part of that. Recently there have been all sorts of incredibly well-intended movements to help people accept and love themselves no matter what. But as I see them go by my timeline, I have to wonder–have we forgotten to remind people that sometimes they just need to grow up and accept that they may be the problem?
I know that may seem a bit harsh, but it’s a real concern of mine that we are substituting pats on the back for taking responsibility of our lives. I’ve noticed that recently, people seem to try to seek joy in two ways:
- they get rid of or avoid entirely the thing that is bothering them or might tie them down, or
- they give themselves a good reason for why it’s not their fault and why it’s not their responsibility.
I’ve seen a lot of my friends avoid having a family or settling down simply because they’re afraid they might miss something better around the corner. So they travel, they date, but they never really “grow up” and as a result they feel psychologically lost at sea. They avoid the “scary” decision that could bring a sense of purpose, belonging, and opportunity for growth because, frankly, it’s risky and they don’t want to have to sacrifice their lifestyle.
Or we get emails from husbands who say, “It’s not my fault I’m addicted to porn–if my wife would just have sex with me I wouldn’t have to look at porn anymore.” That’s the second tactic: place blame at someone else’s feet so you don’t have to admit that it is, in fact, at least partially your fault.
And seeing people avoid or rationalize instead of take charge really hurts my heart.
I’m a very justice-oriented person. So frankly, it makes me angry when people place the blame for their own problems on someone else’s feet. I’ve done that before myself. When I was in university I struggled with quite severe anxiety where I was having multiple panic attacks a week for almost a year, and then just your good-old run-of-the-mill anxiety for another year and a half after that.
And I pointed the finger at everything but me.
I got angry at Connor, my boyfriend at the time. I yelled at my mom (a lot). I got angry that no one knew the right things to say to me.
And you know what it did? It sapped my relationships of all joy. It drained Connor to the point that he had to withdraw from me at times. It made my relationship with my mom really difficult, especially leading up to my wedding (which anyone can tell you is just a joy without anxiety issues). And it made me an incredibly miserable person who couldn’t see an end in sight.
When I look back on that time of my life, I wish I had simply taken responsibility.
It wasn’t my fault that I had anxiety–it felt very much like a switch just flipped on in my brain and I couldn’t turn it off. But I needed to take responsibility of it as my problem, one that I had accidentally created in myself, and one that was my responsibility to fix. No one else could fix it for me. It wasn’t Connor’s fault that he couldn’t stop my panic attacks. It wasn’t my mom’s fault that she didn’t know the exact right thing to say. And by blaming both of them for so long in my heart, I delayed the healing that I so badly needed.
This month on the blog we’re talking about emotional or psychological addictions that steal your joy. I honestly believe I had an emotional addiction to my anxiety–it was almost like my comfort blanket. I got to a point where I didn’t know who I was without it, and it gave me very clear instructions on how to live my life. It was actually pretty comforting, if you ignore all the panic and distress.
I think this inability to accept responsibility for the addictions and bad habits that are stealing our joy is one of the main roadblocks that we put up in the way of healing. Those husbands who rationalize porn use on their wives’ low libido need to take responsibility and quit porn even if their wives never had sex with them again. People who waste hours upon hours of time on time wasters or video games in a life-draining way need to exercise some self control and re-engage with the people around them.
But a more difficult one to talk about is food. We’ve been talking about this mindset shift from simply “losing weight” to getting to a point where we’re truly thriving in the bodies God has given us.
I simply don’t think we can do that if we’re still clinging onto these rationalizations and not taking responsibility.
We try going gluten-free, the new fad diet, or cutting out entire food groups to try to lose weight instead of actually cleaning up our diets and exercising. Because taking responsibility for eating too much is, frankly, really painful to do. Or we give ourselves excuses for being dangerously unhealthy by saying that some contributing factors like metabolic issues or hypothyroidism are the sole cause when really, our diet and exercise routines are not healthy.
But here’s the problem: rationalizing your problems away are not effective ways to find joy because they don’t allow you to live in truth.
Here’s the truth: You want a better, healthier life than what you’ve had so far and you can take steps to get there. God has given you that ability–you have that freedom to choose. If you struggle with health issues or are on medications that make it difficult to lose weight, the journey will be harder for you but you are not a helpless victim of circumstance. You still have the ability to exercise self-control and limit your portion sizes and exercise to maintain a healthy routine, regardless of whatever weight you end up being. Listen, people with mental health issues can tell you: the anxiety never goes away. I have to work 20 times harder than people who haven’t ever had anxiety disorders or panic disorder to not spiral when something goes wrong. I understand that this might be something that I battle with my whole life. But that’s the point: I am battling it. I’m not sitting by and letting it have power over me anymore.
Responsibility doesn’t need to be scary. God created us for more, and He says very clearly that we are each to carry our own load–we’re to do what’s in our responsibility (Galatians 6:5). And we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7)–which is why this rationalization and avoiding doesn’t actually make us happy; it doesn’t fit with God’s design.
What I’d love to see is more people empowered to live life trusting they are equipped as God promised He would equip them to handle the battle ahead. We all have things that are harder for us than they are for other people; it’s not fair, but it’s life. And you have been equipped to deal with it.
What do you think? Do we often rationalize excuses rather than do what needs to be done? Let’s talk in the comments!