Sometime ago I was giving a bath to our three children. I had a custom of bathing them together, more to save time than anything else. I knew that eventually I would have to stop the group bathing, but for the time being it seemed efficient.
Johnny was still in the tub, Laura was out and safely in her pajamas, and I was trying to get Mallory dried off. Mallory was out of the water, but was doing what has come to be known in our family as the Dee Dah Day dance. This consists of her running around and around in circles, singing over and over again, “Dee dah day, dee dah day.” It is a relatively simple dance expressing great joy. When she is too happy to hold it in any longer, when words are inadequate to give voice to her euphoria, she has to dance to release her joy. So she does the Dee Dah Day.
On this particular occasion, I was irritated. “Mallory, hurry!” I prodded. So she did—she began running in circles faster and faster and chanting “dee dah day” more rapidly. “No, Mallory, that’s not what I mean! Stop with the dee dah day stuff, and get over here so I can dry you off. Hurry!”
Then she asked a profound question: “Why?”
I had no answer. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, no meetings to attend, no sermons to write. I was just so used to hurrying, so preoccupied with my own little agenda, so trapped in this rut of moving from one task to another, that here was life, here was joy, here was an invitation to the dance right in front of me—and I was missing it.
So I got up, and Mallory and I did the Dee Dah Day dance together. She said I was pretty good at it, too, for a man my age.
Reflecting on this afterward, I realized that I tend to divide my minutes into two categories: living, and waiting to live. Most of my life is spent in transit: trying to get somewhere, waiting to begin, driving someplace, standing in line, waiting for a meeting to end, trying to get a task completed, worrying about something bad that might happen, or being angry about something that did happen. These are all moments when I am not likely to be fully present, not to be aware of the voice and purpose of God. I am impatient. I am, almost literally, killing time. And that is just another way of saying I am killing myself. Drying off the kids was just something I was trying to get through.
Ironically, often the thing that keeps me from experiencing joy is my preoccupation with self. The very selfishness that keeps me from pouring myself out for the joy of others also keeps me from noticing and delighting in the myriad small gifts God offers each day. This is why Walker Percy describes boredom as “the self stuffed with the self.”
Life is not that way for Mallory. Her self is unstuffed. She just lives. While she’s taking a bath, it’s a dee dah day moment. And when it is time to get dried, that’s another one. After she’s dry, it will be time for another. Life is a series of dee dah day moments. Not every moment of life is happy, of course. There are still occasions that call for tears—skinned knees and cranky towel-bearers. But each moment is pregnant with possibility. Mallory doesn’t miss many of them. She is teaching me about joy.
And I need to learn. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings. The reason for this is worth pondering awhile: Joy is at the heart of God himself. We will never understand the significance of joy in human life until we understand its importance to God. I suspect that most of us seriously underestimate God’s capacity for joy.
Ortberg, John. 2009. The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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