Unscheduled Moments of Joy

Dear Will:

I’m doing math with my 9-year-old. I’m seated on her bedroom floor with my laptop while she slogs through several pages worth of multiplication problems. She has this math teacher who seems to believe that the best thing to do with children is to lock them in their rooms after school and only let them out to do chores and to eat an occasional bowl of gruel. Don’t misunderstand; my wife and I expect academic excellence from our children. But more and more these days we’re wondering where all the play time went.

Surely you remember play time. It was when you stopped worrying about lists and appointments and have-tos and simply indulged the moment’s current whim. It was a time in which you ran just for the fun of it, when you pretended to be someone and somewhere you were not. It was a period of exuberance and imagination and sheer joy. And in my case it stopped happening about 30 years ago.

Fortunately my 4-year-old does not have a preschool teacher who assigns homework. While Bryn and I are doing math, he’s in the bathtub surrounded by a menagerie of plastic animals, saving the “nice guys” from the “mean guys.” As is typical of kids his age, he directs the clashes with animated, pyrotechnic play-by-play. With Seth, bath time is almost a spectator sport.

In fact, I confess that I like to listen to his running commentary. I take great joy in his joy. Who doesn’t get a certain sort of primal delight hearing the unselfconsciousness of a small child? And now that I think of it, other experiences with my family can trigger a similar joyful sensation: walking the dog with my daughter, reading scriptures with my eldest son, looking at my wife from across a crowded room.

And perhaps that is ultimately what I should keep in mind as I long for younger, more carefree days. The deep-down feelings of love triggered by each day’s simple moments serve as a good reminder to me that although my days of unfettered fun have long since slipped away, ultimately “fun” is not really what this life is all about. The scripture tells us: “Men are, that they might have joy,” which is to say, fun is nice, but it’s transitory at best. Joy on the other hand has depth and longevity that make it an eternal emotion.

So how exactly do we find joy? I think it’s by filling our days with things that really matter, by getting through our lists and have-tos and still making time for unscheduled moments in which we connect with loved ones, give simple service to others, share a smile—even do a little math with a 9-year-old.

May you find such joyful moments each day—and if you can manage some fun along the way, all the better.


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