Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays, Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed, Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest! Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine; Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began; Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man. Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife, Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.
(Henry VanDyke, 1907)
Easter Monday is one (of many) days set aside in the Church calendar to unabashedly rejoice - to enter joyfully your day, your redemption, and the wonder of Life. Within the boundaries (nay, the "frame") of the liturgical year, we are offered designated times to engage all our emotions, each during its given season. This of course is not meant in some strict sense. Don't be silly - your emotions wax and wane throughout the year as life often dictates. But the Church also offers seasons, moments, days, or weeks for the Christian to indulge the designated emotions or range of emotions with their fullest intention or awareness. By this I mean, actively asserting an emotion into your experience, rather than passively letting what come what may. The week of Easter, and in particular Easter Monday, we are given time to indulge the ecstasy of joy without guilt of selfishness or despair of grief. If Lent is done well, you have already grieved. You have allowed sadness to enter your experience with no fear of becoming lost in it (the time constraints are a gift in this way). During the 40 days of Lent, we mourn the death of Christ, we face our sin, and head toward the cross burdened and guilty. We mourned our natural state of rebellion without anyone saying we are selfish or weak for nurturing our sadness as it motivates us toward an authentic, self-realized repentance. And then over night, grief turns to joy as our sin is wiped clean and our death conquered. We enter a season of gladness without fear of being lost in sentimentality or a polly-anna dream state. You have faced the sin of the world, now face its life. You have studied one side of the coin, now see the other and rejoice. We appreciate spring because of winter. We engage unabashedly the joy of the resurrection because we have faced the devastation of Lent.
Helping your child engage joy
Consider how important you feel it is to help your child grieve. Most see this as a parental imperative, especially when circumstance presses the necessity of grief upon them. My grandparents died when I was quite young (8 and 9). I was given time away from school; we cried as a family; I attended all of the services; my parents took the time to help me understand what death meant and what loss means to a family. (Side note: an excellent book to help you help your child understand grief is a sweet little illustrated number titled Tear Soup). In other words, the world slowed and time was taken to help me - a child - grieve and engage my family's grief as best I could, given my developmental stage. Our church, COTA, through their wonderful Sunday school program titled "Godly Play" is very intentional about helping children engage, to the best of their ability, the grief of the Church during its given season. So it must be with joy! Just as learning to mourn well can save our children from all kinds of addictions and compulsions in adulthood, so learning to be joyful can help them understand the complexities of longing, notice beauty, turn toward optimism, and maintain hope even when happiness wanes. Joy, as separate from satisfaction or amusement, is an intentional hopefulness, a longing for Life, and a celebration of redemption. Joy is often surprising and even more often unrecognized. All we often feel is a stirring of something Other, something refreshing, something beautiful. To help your child label this as Joy is to help them connect, at least experientially to what Christ calls Eternal Life - our home and promise of rescue in Him. Joy is a conversation nature has with itself and a whisper God has to His people. To experience Joy is to have your soul be spoken to by something from its proper home - something which your humanity has not seen but your Spirit most certainly knows.
In Easter Monday, parents have the opportunity to engage Joy with the same weight and respect that one might engage grief. Intellectually, Easter is difficult for a child to understand. The death and resurrection of Christ and the redemption of man is a complex theology that I don't think I understood until I was in my twenties. So in many ways, one of the greatest tasks a parent can do is side step a child's reason - which may be limited by his or her stage of development - and engage them experientially. In other words, where your words fail give them an experience of Easter that can help awaken their understanding to the miracle of Christ. This is at the heart of incarnational parenting and something Daniel and I intend to do with Lois. I do not expect her to make the connection intellectually or to understand the intention behind our activities for quite some time, but my hope is that we will be doing well to simply connect the experience of Joy with Easter. So that while she may not know exactly what transpired on the Cross theologically she will know deep within her understanding that whatever it is - it is The source of hope, happiness, and celebration. I'd like to use Easter to help her understand Joy and for us to be disciplined about drawing her awareness to our Joy, laughter, and longing so that she might connect this with the resurrection.
I don't know quite yet what we will choose, but here are a few activities that I think might be fun engaging vessels for a larger message of Joy and redemption. If you have something that you do or if you have ideas, please share!
- Take the day off school. Gertrud Meuller Nelson, in her book To Dance with God, reminds us that it may be important and certainly fun to take a wellness day for your children on Easter Monday. A wellness day is opposed to a sick day. You can teach your children they aren't sick, they are healthy and happy, inside and out. Celebrate that even our hearts are clean!
- Start the day with a big breakfast. Eat some of the eggs you made for Easter. Make cross shaped pancakes. Say a blessing before breakfast. Read a little something about joy - or perhaps dance around the kitchen while playing the song above. Set the tone of the day right away.
- Go on a nature walk. Make a list of beautiful things that they can collect, like a scavenger hunt.
- Is there an orchard or farm nearby? Go pick some fruit. Visit the strawberry patch.
- Make a favorite desert
- Get filthy and dirty together (or at least let them do so). Be creative getting dirty. Make a mud pit. Play twister with funny, weird things on each of the colors (ketchup for red, peanut butter on yellow, etc). Then...take your soap and shampoo to the lake, ocean, bay, or even water hose and get clean. Remember their baptism. Relate the experience of being dirty then being cleaned to what has happened for them during Easter - that this is why we are joyful. Doesn't it feel good to be clean? Play tag and get sweaty!