Fathers and daughters
You don’t have to look far to see the fatherhood effect. I read recently that the depression of fathers and their daughters is linked, and that an adolescent girl is more at risk of developing mental health problems if the father had experienced depression in the weeks after her birth. It made me wonder about the effects of a father’s joy during those early days, and all the days that follow.
As a dad I find plenty to ponder about the influence I’ve had on my children, but now that they’re in their twenties, I can see that influence diminishing. I can say that one thing I’ve tried to do consistently (maybe a little too consistently in their opinion) is to make them laugh. To me humor and laughter are the residue of joy.
Martin Seligman, who literally wrote the book on Authentic Happiness in 2002, and titled it… Well… “Authentic Happiness,” has since written that he now detests the word happiness. That it’s so overused it has become almost meaningless. That there is something more meaningful than the “happiology” so often espoused. I would call that something joy. The late Fred Smith, Sr. liked to say that happiness is a cut flower while joy is the deep rooted plant.
I won’t go into detail here about the distinction between joy and happiness, except to say that as abiding fathers, I believe we are called to have an abiding joy.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
John 15:11 ESV
Joy is a light and lightness in a world of heaviness and darkness. It gives one the ability to look at the sadness and grief and know there is still hope. Still joy to be found. I think of this when I read a verse like Hebrews 12:2 where it says that it was for the joy set before him that Christ endured the cross.
This joy is something of a mystery. An optimism beyond words. It’s otherworldly and yet palpable. It’s a counterbalance to what’s wrong with the world and with us.
It’s no mystery that there are crosses in this world. Undeserved goodness is the mystery. GK Chesterton called it the gigantic secret of the Christian.
This gift of joy is one we grow into, and that growth begins with seeing God as joyful and enjoying us. Do you see God as a happy father? Is He smiling or frowning in the images you hold in mind of him? Are you smiling or frowning in the images your children hold in mind of you? And yet it goes far beyond the smiles and frowns. As one friend put it, “When I think of joy, I think of being and resting in knowingness and faith that something deeper is afoot.”
How to find this kind of resting and knowingness?
This morning, I put the phone on “airplane mode,” set the timer for 15 minutes, and sat and thought and prayed in the following way.
Past, Present, and Future
As I thought about my past, I was prone to think of regrets, and I was able to counteract this feeling with a sense of gratitude. It struck me that the most important things – the things I’m most grateful for – are not of my own doing. They are pure gift.
I considered the present demands of the day, and felt that familiar surge of cortisol, and I began to imagine ways I might be generous today. Rather than think of my agenda and undoness, I thought of the others I will see today and how I might help them. Ways they cannot repay.
When I thought of the future and all the uncertainty I have about myself, loved ones, world events and politics, etc. etc., the lines from Newton’s hymn came to mind: “‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”
We all know the dangers of taking our work home with us, but it’s even worse to carry our frustration home. We all carry a weight of responsibility, and while we’re not expected to be chuckles and giggles all the time, I do believe we can bear our burdens with joy. Perhaps we can begin to shape that joy by seeking gratitude where there’s regret. Expressing generosity instead of self-concern and anxiety. And drawing on grace rather than despair about the future.
There’s always more joy to be had. I’m a sucker for the TV program, “Undercover Boss.” Even though the formula for each episode is obvious and predictable, I still love the final scene where the boss reveals him or herself. Of course the shocked employee appreciates the monetary gifts and career opportunities, but I think the deeper appreciation is that they are being seen. That for the first time, for many, they know that someone cares about who they are and what they do. Their work matters. They matter.
The startling truth of Christianity is that the One who sees you most intimately is also the One who created you and literally loves you to death – his own death for you.
Is there any better reason for joyfulness?
That’s the kind of joy that can fill up your cup and spill over onto others. Dads: spill some onto your family and friends!