Don't forget #6. It's the easiest, but also the most important.
There is a famous line in the movie Knocked Up in which a dad, played by Paul Rudd, is watching the delight on his small children’s faces as they play with bubbles in a park.
“I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles,” he says. “It’s totally sad. Their smiling faces just point out your inability to enjoy anything.”
It is a highly cynical but highly relatable line in an age where we seem to have more entertainment options than ever, but a far smaller capacity for joy.
I brought it up with a theologian friend and he said, “A real Christian shouldn’t be like that.” He’s right. Here are seven ways our faith can deliver childlike joy.
First: Be fully in God’s family.
One reason the children in the movie were so happy is that they were perfectly secure and contented to be in a family that gave them everything they needed.
We are in just such a family — God’s family — through the sacraments, and they can be a source of the greatest joy available. Make Mass a real encounter with the living God who adopted you, make confession a place where your wounds become entry points of God’s renewing grace, and make your marriage a place Jesus Christ dwells with you. Joy will follow.
Second: Rediscover wonder.
Children are delighted by bubbles because they have a capacity for wonder and surprise that we lose in older age. But God, ever ancient and ever new, is the source of endless wonder, endless surprise, endless joy.
But you can’t tap into what God offers if you don’t know him, and you can’t know him if you don’t talk to him. So talk to him in daily prayer. The more you see the world through his eyes, the more wonderful it will become.
Third: Give joy to others.
Children also naturally feed off of each other’s joy. They love bubbles when they are alone, perhaps, but they are delighted by each other’s delight in bubbles even more.
We have to work a little bit harder to get to where children are naturally. But we can get there if we decide not to judge others or analyze them, but just serve them. Help them, give them what they need — or simply compliment them. Their joy, and yours, will follow.
Fourth: Find the delight in every situation.
The book Pollyanna got a bad name because we have decided to call people “Pollyannas” if they whitewash uncomfortable truths they don’t want to face. But in the book, Pollyanna doesn’t do this. What she does is play “the glad game,” telling herself, “There is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”
It is a great habit to get into: Trouble at work is bad, but helps you appreciate what goes right; your new blender breaking is bad, but reminds you not to look to material things for joy; a ruined plan is bad, but find out what’s good in Plan B.
Pollyanna’s attitude finds delight even when there is no yard full of bubbles. As she puts it, “When you’re hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind.”
Fifth: Forgive others.
Another reason children find delight is that they aren’t bogged down with a lifetime of baggage weighing down their hearts.
I recently went through a powerful process where I spent nearly 21 days in a row going through a list of categories of people to forgive using these prayers from the book Forgiveness & Inner Healing by Father Robert DeGrandis S.S.J. and Betty Tapscot.
The practice is amazingly freeing. There were people I expected to have to forgive that I really didn’t have a problem with, and people I didn’t expect to have a problem with who I really needed to forgive (the category “Service People” was a revelation).
Try it. Getting rid of the dead weight of unforgiveness is an incredible joy.
Sixth: Ask for joy.
Sometimes we forget the obvious: We should ask God for the joy we need. You may be surprised to learn that he wants joy for you too, and he will tell you where to find it.