JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. Brené Brown
Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:4-5)
Over decades of research, Dr. Brené Brown has discovered that vulnerability is not weakness—in fact, it is the source of human strength. This aligns with what the Apostle Paul discovered in his own spiritual journey. Paul talks about his weaknesses and how human vulnerability is actually the pathway for union with God as well as our most blissful experiences of love, creativity, JOY and belonging.
Dr. Brown also found that JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. No wonder Paul urges his community to be vulnerable and let JOY roam free. The ability to do so is key to spiritual transformation.
According to Brown’s research, 90% of us have a type of “armor” we use to protect us from the powerful emotion of JOY. She calls it “foreboding joy.”
Since JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, if we are not emotionally capable of tolerating joy, we try to protect our hearts by “dress rehearsing tragedy.” That is, imagining something bad is going to happen, when in fact, nothing is wrong.
It happened to me often when my girls were little. Five of us would be piled up on our king-sized bed for story time, my newborn baby snuggling in a proud sister’s arms. Then suddenly a dark feeling would wash over me: What if one of them dies?
‘Foreboding joy’ still happens to me these days. I’ll wake up in the morning and think: I’m so excited about our house remodel, the church is thriving, our parents are doing well… This can’t last. What hard thing is going to happen next?
“What wrong with that?” you say. “I do it all the time, and I think I should! It’s one of the ways I stay realistic and ready for life’s hardships.”
Well, during her research, Brené Brown met people who don’t rehearse tragedy. These people had profound capacity for JOY. When something glorious was happening to them, they felt happy. Instead of practicing disaster, they use JOY as a gentle reminder to practice gratitude. These same people do very well when hardship hits. They have strong skills in empathy, practicing values, withstanding criticism, rumbling with their tough stories and Rising Strong after a setback.
One more thought: How many of us use “foreboding joy” to control others? Parents, maybe you’re afraid that celebrating your child’s success today will cause them to stop trying hard tomorrow. Or at work, do you ever withhold a celebration, because you want the team to keep on improving their performance?
The capacity to be joyful without engaging in self-protection is exactly what Paul is encouraging here in Philippians Chapter 4. He is urging us to fully feel our JOY and celebrate with others.
How would today be different for you if you let JOY roam free in your heart and home and workplace?
LORD God, make me brave enough to be joyful.