It’s summer and the kids are out of school and the sun is shining and the smell of grilled meat is in the air. After these long years of pandemic living, we are all eager for some good ol’ fashioned summer fun: splashing in the water, picnicking with friends, making sticky ‘smores over a shared bonfire. Many of us have travel plans, eager for a change of scenery and hungry for new adventures.
But maybe we have some reservations that are keeping us from truly enjoying the summer fun. Maybe our hearts are hurting from the sorrow and despair we see in the world around us—from the war raging in Ukraine to the deadly gun violence in our own country. Or maybe the struggle hits closer to home: navigating broken relationships, carrying the burden of loss, handling the strain of financial insecurity, or the familiar stress of trying to get things done while the kids are home from school.
Is summer fun worth pursuing? Can we let loose and enjoy ourselves without feeling some measure of guilt? Should we put our feet up when the world is on fire?
The Case for Celebration
Celebration is a spiritual practice that draws us closer to God, the giver of all good gifts. Celebration is also one of the ways we worship God. This is not a call to cue the confetti and balloons and cake, although partying is a form of celebration—there are special days set aside that we look forward to every year. This is not an admonition to be happy all the time. But when we are intentional about seeking out joy, hope, and delight, we are worshiping God by enjoying Him.
Cultivating habits and rhythms of rest, play, delight, and celebration is an act of resistance to all that wants to tear us down, destroy, and cause despair.
My grandma died this month. She lived a long life and in the end, she was surrounded at home by the people who loved her. In the immediate aftermath, my husband and I drove an hour north to be with my parents.
The next morning, I wondered how it was possible to wake up in a world without my grandma in it. On the calendar that day—one of the last that the kids would be in school before summer break—my husband and I had a morning date scheduled.
The heaviness I felt almost kept me on the couch, but instead I carried it with me as we walked to our favorite coffee shop. A little later, the morning clouds lifted and the sun warmed us as we sat on a bench by the bay and shared an order of cajun fries.
It was a moment of great delight. Despite my grief, I was able to soak in the joy of being kid-free on a Friday morning, watching the sun sparkle on the water, and licking the extra spices off my fingers. Acknowledging God in that experience was an act of worship. That small moment of celebration brought me closer to God.
Adele Calhoun, author of The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, notes:
“The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our hearts on joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. We can search for God in all circumstances, or not. We can seek the pulse of hope and celebration because it is God’s reality.”Adele calhoun
Shifting our mindset
Cultivating rhythms of delight and celebration can be an intentional act as we make space for it on our calendars, but it can also become a mindset, a way to tune our hearts to the frequency of joy and keep God’s goodness at the forefront of our thoughts.
A prayer chain email from my church caught my eye last week. One of our pastors had just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer. He asked for “prayers of thanksgiving that the cancer was caught early and that there is treatment.” Among hopes for healing and comfort, thanksgiving was on the top of his mind.
This is not to say that our sadness, grief, and loss should never be on display or that God doesn’t approve of our big feelings. Our heavy emotions are valid and worthy of expression. But we are complex creatures—sorrow and joy can coexist, as can dread and delight.
I can’t imagine all the thoughts and feelings running through the apostle Paul and Silas—freshly beaten and thrown in jail—yet still, they sang (Acts 16:25). If Paul can encourage us from his prison cell, saying: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Phil 4:4, NLT) then we are walking closer to God when we make a practice of celebration, joy, and delight.
Making room for celebration
How can we incorporate celebration, joy, and delight into our own daily rhythms? Here are some practical steps that have helped me:
1. Slow Down
Savoring God’s good gifts to us can’t happen unless we notice them. And we can’t notice them if we’re always in a rush. Our frenetic pace of busyness prevents us from soaking in the everyday delights that litter our path. Although we have daily responsibilities, we don’t need to worship at the altar of productivity; we can go about our business in an unhurried way, mindful of the joy available to us all. And when we encounter delight, we can tune into each of our five senses to be fully present to the moment, and turn it into a prayer of gratitude.
Making space and time to engage in activities that bring us joy is a great way to cultivate rhythms of celebration. What makes you come alive? What have you always wanted to try? What hobby are you curious about? Photography, cross-stitching, mountain climbing, pottery, fishing, drawing… The options are endless.
Doing what we love doing for the sheer pleasure of it and not towards any end product necessarily, is one way we can draw closer to God as we delight in His creation.
3. Involve others
Misery loves company, but so does joy and celebration. We were made to be in community so it’s no wonder that fun and delight multiply when we share it with someone! So schedule that girls’ night out, or invite a friend to a concert, or host a couples’ game night, or catch up with a friend at that new coffee place in town.
Above all, may we remember that God delights in us:
“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NLT)
Therefore, we too, can live a life of celebration in thanksgiving to God.
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