One of my favorite animated movies is Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out.” I’ve loved it since we saw it in theaters in 2015, and I’m pretty sure I’ve cried every time I’ve seen it. I stood alone in line at Disney World to meet a couple of the characters, and even allowed my kids to join me in the photos when I got to the front. The movie spoke to me, in part, because the main human character was named Riley, my daughter’s (and my maiden) name.
The movie suggests that we all have characters in our brain that represent our dominant emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. When Riley’s life turns upside down, the emotions battle for control. Joy desperately tries to make things better and squeeze out the other emotions. In the end though, the characters demonstrate that all of the emotions are necessary and important for a well-rounded life.
Recently, McDonald’s included Pixar characters in their Happy Meals, and when one of my boys got the Joy character, I grabbed it for my own. I placed the toy on my nightstand but didn’t open it. Then, the other day, I realized that Joy was still inside the clear plastic bag. Joy was trapped, so to speak.
I admit that at times I’m more comfortable with the emotions of sadness, anger, or fear than with joy. I’m an analytical person, so when I experience negative emotions, I pick them apart in my brain: Why do I feel this way? What’s wrong with me? How can I fix the issues that are making me feel bad? I often ruminate on the aspects of my problems for long lengths of time. Analyze, overanalyze, and then do it again. It makes me feel productive or working toward betterment. And despite this false illusion, I can spin in the pain indefinitely. The emotional lows can become a familiar and comfortable type of pain.
Joy is different. Experiencing joy can feel awkward because there’s nothing to overanalyze, no problems to isolate. Joy requires us to live more in the moment, and I’m not always good at that. Sociologist Brené Brown said, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we have.” And so, I try to push it away.
Yet, I don’t have a compelling reason to feel this way about joy. I haven’t experienced a childhood trauma or overwhelming drama that would explain the aversion to joy that I sometimes feel. But because I worry that it’s fleeting and undependable, I suffocate joy, just like it’s in a plastic bag. And so, I’ve concluded that I need to work on embracing joy more often and with less trepidation.
I started looking for references to joy in the Bible, of which there are many. A passage in the Psalms stuck out to me: “When I said, ‘my foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:18-19. In order to fully appreciate the verse, I double checked the definition of consolation, which means, “the comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment.” (Lexico.com) When we feel anxious, especially after a loss or disappointment, God comforts us so that we can find joy again.
God acknowledges that we will experience loss and disappointment. But God doesn’t want us to stay stuck in our pain. If we seek God’s love and comfort, then we can better accept the joy in life and in God. Instead of resigning myself to the inability to settle into joy, I need to focus on the joy God wants for me and trust that he will be with me in both the pain and the joy.
I removed Joy from the plastic bag as a symbolic gesture. I want to loosen the white-knuckle grip that prevents me from appreciating joy and more fully release joy into my life. God is a proponent of joy. May we all follow God’s lead and embrace the joy God provides.