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  • Dawn Delaney, MA, LPC

Expanding Our Capacity to Experience Joy

Updated: May 14

Dawn Delaney, MA, LPC


I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

Jesus’ desire for us is that we would lead full lives that would be marked by joy. Last month we talked about how joy is what we feel when someone’s face lights up because they are glad to be with us. It is not about being happy; It is about experiencing that someone is glad to be with us regardless of what we’re going through.


We’ve all experienced times in our lives when joy feels illusive. Seasons of grief, seasons of heartache, seasons of depression, seasons of mounting relational and financial pressure, seasons of stress, seasons of loneliness.


When we’re in a hard place and joy seems out of reach, are there ways we can work towards expanding our capacity to experience joy? The simple and hopeful answer is yes.


Since joy is about experiencing that someone is glad to be with us no matter what we’re going through, the most effective way to increase our capacity to experience joy is to strengthen our relational attachments.


In his book, The Other Half of Church, Michael Hendricks writes, “Our brains draw life from our strongest relational attachments to grow our character and develop our identity. Who we love shapes who we are. Our brains are designed to use our attachments to form our character” (79).


What do we mean when we say relational attachments? Psychology talks about our attachment relationships as the emotional connections we formed with our primary caregivers as infants. Ideally, these relationships provided security for us and helped us form an identity that is stable and consistent over time. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and our early attachments could leave us feeling insecure and unstable, especially when we face something difficult.


The good news is that God is a good father and His love is perfect. No matter what hand we were dealt growing up, we all have the opportunity to develop secure attachment with God at any point in our life. It’s never too late!


In the Bible, the concept of relational attachment to God and others is found over and over again. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Hesed refers to an enduring love, a steadfast love, a great love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithful love. It refers to an enduring connection that looks out for the well-being of another. In the New Testament, the Greek word Agape describes a deep and enduring love, a sacrificial love that is given from the heart. The relational attachment that God offers us is to enter into an enduring covenant of perfect love with Him through His son, Jesus.


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2


So now that we know what we mean when we say relational attachment, how do we strengthen our relational attachment to God and others? The most effective way to strengthen our relational attachments is by practicing what we call deliberate appreciation–intentionally bringing to mind, cultivating gratitude for, and expressing thanks for things that we appreciate. Below is an exercise you can try if you’d like to work on strengthening your relational attachment to God. This same exercise, slightly modified, could work for strengthening your relational attachment to other important persons in your life as well.


One way that we can practice gratitude is by practicing what we call deliberate appreciation–intentionally bringing to mind, cultivating gratitude for, and expressing thanks for things that we appreciate. Below is an exercise you can try if you’d like to work on strengthening your relational attachment to God. This same exercise, slightly modified, could work for strengthening your relational attachment to other important persons in your life as well.


With God:


  1. Think of one thing that you genuinely appreciate. This can be something in nature, a loved one’s smile, a particular food, an experience you had with someone you care about, your pet—anything that makes you feel real feelings of gratitude. It does not need to be something ‘spiritual,’ but simply anything that you genuinely appreciate. When you have that thing in mind, take a moment to notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel (touch). Notice how you feel (emotionally), and where you feel that in your body.


2. Take a few seconds to think about and focus on this positive appreciation memory until you can “feel” genuine appreciation, gratitude, blessing, etc.


3. Give the memory a one or two word name—i.e. flowers, dog, Colorado, husband/wife, etc.


4. Express thanks to God for what you appreciate.


5. Ask God, “What do You want me to know right now?

  • Listen carefully, noticing any thoughts, feelings, words, images and sensations. It can be good to write down what you experience.

  • Notice also any sense of peace that you are experiencing as well.


6. Share with someone else what you sense that God wants you to know.




 

All scripture references are in the NIV translation unless otherwise noted.

Hendricks, Michael, and Jim Wilder. The Other Half of Church. Moody Publishers, 2020.


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