“You need to write more about joy,” Ben said as I passed him his coffee cup. “You’re breaking my heart.”
I laughed, of course, but the truth of his words hummed unpleasantly in my head. Truth was, I couldn’t write about joy unless it was the truest thing in my heart, and more than anything I wanted it to be a constant reality.
Joy is a lot like freedom, or balance, or bobby pins. Anytime I go looking for it, I can’t find it.
He sits up in his crib when I open the door, grins at me through the spaces between the wooden slats.
I wonder if he remembers me. Tipping backward, he arches his back and squirms his hello, like the waking from each nap is the dawn of a new life.
I lift him from the crib, settling into my arms, and run my fingers through his tufted blonde comb-over.
“Good morning…I’m so glad to see you again.”
He grins sideways, his gray eyes holding all the light of the morning.
My coworker and I alternated washing and drying dishes as we talked about joy.
“It’s my birthright,” he said, “and so often I send it down the river for a bowl of soup.”
The trouble with birthright is that it’s so elusive. It’s a stated fact. An agreed-upon reality, like a signature on a piece of paper.
It’s also a truth, which is as abstract as my identity, and therefore visceral in its implications.
I can go my entire life with joy at my heart’s fingertips and never take hold because I don’t know how to own it as part of myself.
When I’m sitting on the floor, William launches himself at me and uses every part of my body to claw upward, until he’s teetering on my leg, grabbing my shirt, my collarbone, my hair, to steady himself.
Then he gently leans his forehead against mine, staring cross-eyed into my eyes, and holds still, just breathing.
For a moment, the whole world stops. For a moment, his delight effervesces in every exhale, every blink, every brush of his skin against mine.
For a moment, in this little boy, I can feel the Father whispering, This is what I would do with you. And then I realize why he is growing up in joy.
All he knows is that he is loved.
The first thing about birthright is you have to be born first to have it.
The second thing about birthright is someone has to die for you to come into inheritance.
The truth of my heart’s reality is that I am firstborn, because my brother gave me his birthright in his death. When Jesus spoke to disciples about joy, it was right before his death. He told them to stay in his love, and to love each other, so his joy would be in them and their joy would be full.
The reality of my heart is that I am afraid to be loved.
The third thing about birthright is there is a lot of waiting.
I knew I wouldn’t find joy if I chased it down. So I waited. “For as long as it takes,” I told him.
I’m learning to turn my back to the things of the world that promise joy–it’s painful, sitting with nothing and waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
But the filling always comes. Usually with the morning, when I wake and find it has returned to hold onto me, lean against my forehead, inhale contentment, exhale delight.
You are loved. I am with you.
So for today, at least, I reject that bowl of soup and claim my birthright.