I remember the day quite clearly. I had had a rough week caring for my four little boys. It was Saturday. And my sweet husband said to me, "Why don't you go have fun? I'll take care of the kids." I thought that was a stellar idea. I got in the van (which I lovingly call "The Mother Ship") and sat.
Where to go? What to do? I sat for a long time. My organized, serious mind went to work. Well, I should go get the grocery shopping caught up. I should probably drop by my visiting teachees and take them a treat. I should go to the club and exercise. Down the list my mind went. And then my fun side spoke up. You have the whole day! Go do something fun! You can do anything you want! I can't remember what I did that Saturday, but I remember that mental debate quite clearly.
Tossing the Guilt
I know I'm not the only one who faces this dilemma. Listen and see if any of these voices sound familiar: "A hot bath sounds wonderful right now, but I'd better finish this project for work." "I feel guilty any time I leave my kids in order to do something for myself." "I didn't send out a Christmas letter last year; I'd better do a spring letter immediately. I don't know—does that sound dumb?"
Do you feel stressed, overworked, resentful, frustrated, or any of those other lovely draining adjectives that seem to define womanhood? I hit my max at one point when I had four little boys ages 9 and under, and a new Dalmatian puppy. I felt like I had a shackle on each limb, plus a neck chain! I think the best word to describe my state of being was "confined."It was at this point that my husband suggested that maybe I take some time for myself and go play. That seemed like a good idea. But I literally could not think of what I wanted to do! It was like my "play" button had been disconnected for so long that I couldn't even come up with one thing that sounded fun or appealing. I began calling other women to see if they wanted to do something, and one after another declined. "Oh, I'm sorry, but I've got a big week at work this week." "I'm just really busy with the kids." "I have too much on my plate right now." Not one would take the time to go have fun!
Catching the Joy
I decided that playtime was something I would have to do for myself. So I began to ponder: What did I want to do? Now, I figure that many of us are in this position. So let's do a little experiment: Close your eyes and remember what you were like when you were 16. What did you like to do? Now a simple question: Why aren't you doing that stuff now? And, more broadly, why don't women play? The answer is quite clear: Women feel guilty. We feel guilty about all the things we should be doing. "I can't go on a date with my husband because I should spend more quality time with our children." "I can't exercise because I should clean the house." "I can't take up a hobby because I should do my family history work."
President Hinckley, whom I loved for his sense of humor, said, "In all of living have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." Let's face it. Isn't that what we want for our children? Isn't that what we want for ourselves? So let's throw off our guilt like an old coat that doesn't fit anymore and bring more fun, laughter, and joy into our lives. Let's catch some joy!
Personal Play Plan
If you're like me, it may take a while to get in touch with those joyful feelings again. That's okay. Just take the time to write down what you like to do or what you would like to do. Take a cruise? Learn to oil paint? Write a book? Spend more time with the grandchildren? Start your list now and let it grow year after year.
Second, start small, but do start. You may not be able to go scuba diving immediately, but you could take a mask and snorkel to the ocean and try it out. You may not be able to write an entire book right now, but you could write a short essay or start a blog. The important thing is to start. Start this week. Pick some small part you can do now and do it! Trust that over time your talent—-and your joy—will grow.
Third, own your joy. I promise you that you will probably encounter resistance. One thing that brings me pure joy is taking a nap. Like the rest of you, my days are often exhausting! So I take a nap whenever I can.
Owning Your Joy
One day I was sleeping and my son answered the phone. It was the lady from the insurance company. I returned her call later in the day. I will always remember her snide and snippy voice. "Well," she said in a huff, "I hope you enjoyed your nap!" I laughed, "Yes, I did! And I'm hoping to take one again tomorrow." She was not amused . . . but I sure was!
It seems people don't like it when you rock the boat. If you're going around with a giddy smile on your face, they're going to be jealous. If you're talking about some wonderful thing you're doing, they may not want to hear it. That's okay. Own your joy anyway! We may have to be relentless in our pursuit to bring play back into our lives. Yes, to everything there is a time and a season, but no season should be pure drudgery. Never let someone else's reaction interrupt your pursuit of your joy.
Finally, cut yourself some slack! This Personal Play Plan is not another to-do list to flog yourself with. This is a suggestion for a way that might help you catch the joy in your life. I remember running into a woman a year after I had spoken on this subject. "Well, I haven't gone on my cruise yet. I guess I've failed," she said. Here was a woman who had missed the trees of joy in the forest of guilt. I stopped right there. "Have you thought about it this past year?"She smiled and her face lit up. "Yes, I have thought about it. And I've been talking to other people about it. I haven't decided where to go yet, but I've been saving my money. I've been studying about Germany, and I'm thinking about maybe doing one of those river cruises." For her, even planning the fun had become fun in and of itself. There is something wonderful that will happen when you begin to catch the joy again in your life—a ripple effect will grow. You'll have more to talk about with others.
I was visiting an office recently and one young woman told me all about her upcoming humanitarian trip to Mexico for a charity she was working with. Another middle-aged woman related to me the story of her latest scuba dive trip. Another woman talked about a book she was writing. And yet another woman shared with me all the things she was doing with her grandchildren. What a wonderful experience! I was so energized just by talking to all of these women who were actively pursuing fun in a variety of ways. Imagine the end of your day as you're sitting with your roommates over dinner or with your husband and kids. "Guess what I learned about today? I studied the white rhinoceros in Zambia. It was fascinating! And I was able to rollerblade around the entire block with the dog without falling down once!" You will be quite an interesting person!
Another result of making time to play will be that you will have more energy in your tanks to serve others and do all those necessary things in your life. We have so many things that we must do, so many plates to keep spinning. But if we never stop to catch some joy, the guilt will burn us up.
I'm constantly explaining this concept to mothers of young children. Having some personal time is extremely difficult, and many moms say they feel guilty just taking those brief times away from their children. I ask them to stop and think about how they feel after their break. Most moms feel energized and ready to go back and tackle the real world. This is also true of women who are working full time. It can be so hard to take time off to find some personal joy. And yet, when they do, they find they have much more stamina to return to their work duties.
Finally, when we make the effort to fill our lives with more joy, we find that we are filled with greater charity. We will notice others more and have the energy and interest to reach out and help them. Guilt is a very selfish endeavor, and when we are swept up in feeling that way, it's like we have blinders on. When we can toss the guilt aside, we can find the joy that comes when we help others and are aware of their needs and concerns. Each day that we toss the guilt aside and catch the joy can be the best day of our lives. Each day can have moments of joy—breathtaking moments, quiet moments, invigorating moments, sweet moments of joy. And that is worth the effort.
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Are you tired of worrying about things you can't control? Do you feel distracted or overwhelmed by the daily demands of living? Do you wonder if it's even possible to make space in your busy life to become the person you really want to be? In Toss the Guilt and Catch the Joy: A Woman's Guide to a Better Life, popular author and speaker Merrilee Boyack presents eight pairs of contrasting characteristics, inviting women to consider their own tendencies: Faithful or fearful? Focused or distracted? Peaceful or worried? She then discusses how we can move from where we are to where we want to be without feeling guilty or discouraged.