Is joy something we can buy? Maybe. It’s a question we’re exploring in our home. My five year old has a new plastic toy that she got from the store. It’s a little banana with a secret compartment inside to hold all her tiny sparkling treasures. After a couple days she was sitting on the couch and offered a thoughtful confession to me. She said that her toy was not as special as she thought. It turns out that her little plastic banana had not lived up to this kindergartener’s expectations. It just wasn’t as surprising or fun as she had hoped. We talked for a couple minutes about how we hope so many things we see in the store will give us happiness, but often don’t live up to the promise. She was a bit sad by all of this. After a moment and some quiet thinking, she said that her favourite long term and well worn toy, Wiggly Bunny, doesn’t let her down. We decided it is because Wiggly is well-loved, and well-loved things, and people, seem to go the distance. Loving-well and being well-loved is full of good surprises.
Love is perhaps one of the most special wonders we can nurture in our lives. It takes so many forms, it rides on words, actions, thoughts, gifts, hopes, and knowing embraces. Love, has been used to describe everything from chocolate to life-long marriage commitments. It’s been abused and muddied, but love is profoundly central to our human experience. When we are loved-well, we know it. When we come across the well worn and ever faithful and good kind of love, we know we’ve stumbled onto something good. It’s the kind of love we were made for.
This good rich and lasting love starts, perhaps, is like a seed. If you plant it, nurture it, and wait on it, love has a way of growing in us and multiplying. Loving-well is the act of planting this love with the hope that it will grow. Henri Nouwen wrote, “As you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”
So, can you buy joy? Maybe, but probably not the kind we really long for. I’m learning that so many of the good things we want in life are not bought, but rather nurtured over time. Growing something is often hard and can be a struggle. Buying the plastic banana is quick and easy, but the surprise wears off. Loving others only when they immediately return the favour is a short-lived kind of experience. However when love is planted, nurtured again and again, and allowed to grow in us, we may be surprised one day to discover that loving-well has led to being loved-well in return. Something good grows between us and others.
Our neighbourhoods are places where we can learn to love-well, and be loved-well. It is the kind of place where we can nurture this very core human wonder, and enjoy all that it eventually brings. A version of love is sometimes offered to us in sparkly packages that ultimately proves to let us down. Yet between people, over the long term, something better can emerge if we let it. Love is our default setting, we were made for it. May you enjoy the fruit of living into who you were made to be: one who is able to love well, and be well loved.