“Jayna, what do you think is the most vulnerable emotion we can have?”
I paused, shrugging my shoulders.
“Would you believe me if I told you that it was joy?”
I paused again, looking at my therapist trying to understand why she would ask me that. I asked her to explain.
“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion because we’re afraid to lose it. Think about it, we’re not worried that fear will go away or that anger will go away, or sadness—but joy…we’re afraid that once we get it, it won’t last.”
Loose wires started to connect and unscrewed bolts began to tighten.
She continued, “Jayna, for some reason, you have this inner narrative that keeps you afraid of joy. It’s like your shame is trying to protect you from the devastation of losing joy. Once it comes, you struggle to enjoy it, not wanting to get attached, because you ‘know’ it’s going to leave.”
My inner child felt both seen and also extremely sad.
I don’t remember if I cried at this point, but it is very likely. Therapy does that too ya. It just hurts so good, ya know?
That was a few weeks ago.
Earlier this week, at my appointment, my therapist said, “Jayna, can you take note of the times that you’re laughing? Can you take a few seconds to realize how that feels, to realize that you’re safe?”
I nodded. “Yes, I can do that. I love laughing!”
“I know you do! Pay attention to your body when you’re laughing, like really laughing.”
What I’ve realized through this counseling process is that the body really does keep the score. Apparently, there’s a fire alarm in my brain that’s been going off for months now. Essentially, my body has felt like it’s under threat and so my brain is sending off signals alerting me of danger and is doing everything it can to keep me safe. This is all happening in my amygdyla. Brains are bananas, y’all.
As I’ve continued to work through past trauma and experiences, the fire alarm doesn’t go off as much, but it’s still fairly sensitive. Making toast in my mind is precarious work. But I’m not in danger anymore. I know that, I really do…there’s just still a part of me that’s trying to catch up to that fact.
And whether I realize it or not, I feel the safest when I laugh. If you’ve ever seen me laugh you’ve noticed at least these 2 things—
1)It doesn’t take much to get me going
2)Once I start, my knees “give out” shortly thereafter
It’s quite the sight to behold. People whom I’ve just met are always concerned, but my friends are faithful to immediately say, “She’s fine. She just does this.” If there aren’t any “new” people in the mix, my friends will just say, “Oh! There she goes!”
I can’t help it. I’ve seen video of myself when my laughter “takes me”, as I like to say, and it’s pretty funny. I look ridiculous, but you know what else I look? Safe. Safe and Free.
As I was getting out of my car for work this morning, I dropped an orange I’d brought with me. Immediately, the orange started to roll through the parking lot and like an animal I ran, bent over, after it. Realizing how silly I looked, I started to laugh. In doing so, I remembered another time I was doubled over in laughter outside, near a car. I was with a good friend. He was talking about something, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He had slipped and fallen in the wet grass. Where I could once see his head above the car, I saw nothing but black. You truly had to be there (or be me) to find all of this as funny as I did/do.
Anyway, I immediately sent this friend a video of me recalling the story. In the video, I was laughing (who’s surprised, honestly?). I walked into work still giggling to myself and thought about my therapist’s words. I tried to take notice of how my body felt.
Calm. Relaxed. Shoulders down. Jaw unclenched. Mind swimming down a stream instead of its usual race through the rapids. I smiled and thanked Jesus that for my frequent laughing fits.
Even though I laugh frequently, I always worry that maybe one day I won’t be able to. Maybe one day I won’t be completely overtaken by my laughter. Maybe one day this joy will be gone. Of course, the Lord is faithful to let me laugh. He lets me laugh big, hearty, loud, and body encompassing laughter. And it’s beautiful. It’s precious. When I laugh with all of who I am I’m not worried about who I am, how I’m perceived or what might happen. I can just be. I can be full of joy.
What I’m realizing now is that true and genuine laughter only comes out when I feel safe. I give the specifications of true and genuine because we all know what it’s like to nervously laugh. (Think: the awkward laugh that happens when unwanted, sexual attention is given. Laughter and consent aren’t the same, people!) But true and genuine laughter—the kind that steals your breath, the kind that puts your stomach in a tight knot, the kind that can’t possibly sound attractive because it doesn’t have the time—is the kind that tells our bodies, “Hey. You’re safe. It’s okay. Lean into this moment.”
The book of Nehemiah says that it’s the Lord’s joy that is our strength. What good news that is! My joy isn’t my strength. It’s His. Sealed by the Spirit, hidden in Christ, my Father holds both my strength and my joy. He is my safe retreat and the gift of laughter is a reminder of that.
And joy, while a vulnerable emotion, can’t ever be lost. It doesn’t be long to me. At least, not entirely. I’m not responsible for it…my Jesus is. And he’s the best keeper of all things sacred and vulnerable. He’s the best at details and intricacies.
So here is this joy, Lord. It belongs to you. You’ve allowed me to hold it and it feels frail. Help me to remember that my hands aren’t strong enough and that I have to let you hold them. You give and take away, yes, but there is a guarantee that you will never leave. And in your presence is fullness of joy. So, my sweet Jesus, abide with me. Abide with me, and let’s laugh.