The first and simplest reason the joy gap starts to expand is tiredness. It is hard to build joy when you feel worn out and lack margin. Perhaps the core reason we lack margin in our lives is that we lack rhythm. Without a relational rhythm, our souls begin to wilt. When we can’t find time for the kinds of activities that build joy and nurture the soul, life starts to feel overwhelming.

I have some good friends whose joy in marriage has seen them through a lot of hard times. They have developed several practices that have helped them establish a rhythm of relational connection. First, they eat breakfast together almost every morning. The husband is an early riser and loves to watch the sun light up the mountains near their home as they go from black to purple to pink. Once his wife is up, he sits at the table with her. They read the day’s editorial from the newspaper and discuss it before getting on with the rest of their day. In the evenings, they sit in the living room together and enjoy a glass of wine.

It is this cycle of relational appreciation and affection that leads to a rhythm that creates margin in our lives, allowing us to be happy together in times of rest as well as times of activity.

Building Your Joy Camp

Have you ever been camping? I am personally not much of a camper. I got tired of the mosquito bites and lack of sleep. But I have friends who are avid campers. One of them is Jim Wilder. He introduced me to a camping analogy for how to create rhythm in our marriages. He calls this analogy “joy camp.”

Suppose a few families decide to spend a weekend in the mountains. The first thing they do is set up their campsite. They will likely set up a fire pit, pitch their tents, and hang their food up in the trees just outside the sleeping area to discourage unwanted visits from bears in the middle of the night.

Next, the adults will set up some ground rules. The youngest children have to stay with their parents near the campsite. The older kids can go down to the lake, but they need to wear life preservers to go out on the boat. Everyone else is free to explore the area and spend the day enjoying (and sometimes conquering) nature.

As the day winds down and people make their way back to camp, another kind of activity takes place. Meals are cooked. Drinks are served. A fire is built. People gather together to tell stories and share the adventures of the day. It doesn’t matter whether you conquered nature or nature conquered you; at the end of the day, you get to be with your people, in joy camp, sharing the experience together.

This is the way life is supposed to work. We start our day in joy camp and end our day in joy camp. It doesn’t matter whether your day is good or bad; you have the security of knowing you will be with people who are happy to see you at the end of the day. Families that successfully build this type of rhythm will find themselves living with the margin they need to handle the stresses of life and increase their joy.

Building a habit of nurturing your soul through rhythm means turning your home into a joy camp where people know there will be a rhythm of relational time together. As you learn to start your day relationally, end your day relationally, and schedule regular times for relational connection, your capacity for joy will dramatically increase and your margin for rest will follow suit.

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Nurture a Rhythm

Finding a good rhythm for our marriage comes down to two simple ingredients: attention and timing. Knowing what time it is and paying attention to the fluctuating needs in your marriage will establish security and increase marriage joy.

Build in a rhythm of sharing in your marriage. Start by sharing highlights from your day. Once you feel relational, discuss the following topics.

What we like: What do you like about your marriage? How does this make you feel? (This is not a time to use the word “but” or stir up what annoys you about your marriage.) Example: I like that we value quality time. It makes me feel encouraged thinking about how we protect opportunities to connect with each other and the people we love.

Who we are: Talk about the unique flavor in your marriage. What important qualities are present in your marriage? What specific qualities are meaningful for you? Example: I like that we are people who value relationships, and we prioritize time with each other and with friends.

Looking back: When the day comes and you are at the end of your life, what things would you like said about how you valued your marriage? What would you like to be able to say about how you cultivated and tended your marriage? In other words, what kind of marriage legacy do you want to have? Example: I want to say that I finished well and I loved my spouse with all my heart. I want my loved ones to recognize that I deeply valued my marriage.

Shrinking the Gap

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Rhythm is crucial to emotional capacity. If you don’t get enough rest, everything about handling our emotions and relationships gets harder. Having a routine to start and end your day nurtures a rhythm that naturally gives you margin. Learning to build routines that allow for rest as well as play creates a great environment for building joy. It is like working out at the gym. You don’t actually grow muscles while you lift weights. Your muscles grow during the times of rest in between workouts. If you push yourself constantly without rest, you can actually diminish the results you get. In the same way, joy grows best when there is a rhythm of high activity (whether work or play) as well as low, restful activity.

Taken from The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages by Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

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