It wasn’t long ago that the idea of celebrating terrified me. Like so many others I had known—clients I had seen in my therapy practice, friends, family members—who had experienced prolonged seasons of hurt and disappointment, I had become highly suspicious of joy, afraid to hold God’s good gifts for fear that they would be snatched away. I was sure that celebration always came with a catch, so I became practiced in praying for the miracle while preparing to mourn. But I was beginning to understand this perspective was costly. I realized that much of the loss I had experienced in my life was not only the grief and disappointment itself, but also the joy I overlooked because I was too afraid to embrace it.
You understand. You know what it feels like to take a blow that makes it difficult to rise to the delight in our days. You know what it feels like to wonder if hope is a good idea. But listen close. I don’t want us to miss out on our beautiful God-given lives because we are busy preparing for the worst.
We often think of celebration as a reward sitting on the far side of a dream realized, a goal achieved, or a shift in circumstances we are hoping to see. But what happens when the outcome isn’t the result we hoped for? How do we celebrate when we don’t feel that we’ve been given a reason to do so? What does it look like to celebrate the life you have? Joy doesn’t merely come with a transition. It’s cultivated through a transformation of the heart. Celebration, and its best, is a rhythm of remembering God’s goodness, and not merely a reward we enjoy in the wake of breakthrough or good news. Here’s how we practice the celebration we long to enjoy in are everyday lives:
Savor – Savoring celebrates the ordinary, expanding our awareness of what is good and deepening our connection to our present joy. Our brains are efficient and will readily dismiss memories it considers insignificant unless we savor them. Take this very moment or select a picture from the archives of your memory. Next, ask all five of your traditional senses what they are going to remember about this moment. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you feel? In savoring the ordinary moments, you celebrate your life.
Thanksgiving – We often talk about gratitude’s impact on joy. And the research is clear that the practice of gratitude does indeed increase our joy as it helps us notice and name what is good, shaping our perspective and putting language to what we feel. But what we don’t often discuss is that the practice of thanksgiving—expressing the gratitude we feel—doubles our joy. Thanksgiving is the avenue we’ve been given to celebrate the gift with the giver. Joy multiplies when it’s shared. This is true of our prayers too. Through thanksgiving, we can celebrate our gifts with God.
Remember – Our tendency is to think of celebration as a reward instead of a discipline. But when we look at the celebrations of the Bible, we see that each festival occurred not because God’s people felt that they had earned the feast or because they were in the mood to celebrate but because it was time to do so. Even the weekly celebration of sabbath didn’t come as a reward for the week’s accomplishments. A day of rest wasn’t simply the result of exhaustion from the past week. It was, and continues to be, a structure of celebration that invites us to release our grip on control and step into God’s rhythms of grace. Maybe it’s a special meal once a week. Or perhaps it’s the same walk every morning. Whatever the ritual, the rhythm helps us remember God’s goodness. And sometimes, especially in seasons of suffering, celebration looks like remembering Who is good in all circumstances.
Receive Affirmation — It might require some nerve to stare into the extent of our brokenness. But many of us underestimate the courage that is required to gaze into the expanse of our belovedness. Often, we reject praise and refuse to celebrate ourselves because the kindness feels foreign to the lies we’ve claimed—the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what makes us worthy. It will be difficult to celebrate when these are the stories written in ink on our hearts. The truth about your value will always feel like it’s true for someone else, but not for you. The celebration will always sit on the other side of accomplishment, a mirage of satisfaction. You will decide that joy was possible until you made that mistake—that mistake that invited shame to move into your heart. What if allowing our souls to feel their worth was a cornerstone of the courage to celebrate? One place to start celebrating your belovedness is to pay attention to your response toward affirmation. Do you qualify others’ kindness? Do you diminish the truth in someone’s compliment or deflect the affirmation with sarcasm? I have a policy of sorts for myself that I can only say some version of, “Thank you, I receive that.” In response to affirmation. Can I encourage you to celebrate by adopting this policy too?
Play — Fun is not frivolous, but a homemade gift from God and one of our best defenses against burnout. Often, we consider celebration to be superfluous, and not essential to the Christian life. Sometimes we are hesitant to celebrate in this way because we fear it’s a merely numbing the pain—an unhealthy reaction to life’s hardship. But celebration is not a means of escaping the reality that our hearts are brutally bruised, but rather keeps us grounded in the truth that both our heartache and our hope are true. God takes pleasure in our pleasure!
Perhaps you too have allowed fear to govern too many of your years. That fear has made you comfortable in the dark and hypervigilant in the light. Right now, you might be tempted to ask yourself questions like, What if I’m foolish to hope? What if I try and fail? What if I pursue connection and am rejected? But this is the truth I want to press into your palms: you—just as you are in this moment—are celebrated. And you are a celebrator made in the image of a celebratory God, who is present in both our pain and joy. And a life lived with God is a life worth celebrating.
Nicole Zasowski is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the new book, What If It’s Wonderful? As an old soul who wears her heart proudly on her sleeve, she enjoys writing and speaking on topics that merge her professional knowledge, faith, and personal experience. Nicole lives in Connecticut with her husband and three young children.